Best of our wild blogs: 20 Nov 17



Singapore got sea turtles! Learn more at Rushan's talk on 24 Nov (Fri)
wild shores of singapore

Butterfly of the Month - November 2017
Butterflies of Singapore

Giant African Snail (Lissachatina fulica) @ Upper Bukit Timah Road
Monday Morgue


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NParks razed vegetated plot in Bukit Batok for public safety but some experts are concerned

Audrey Tan Straits Times 19 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE - A once-vegetated plot of land opposite the Bukit Batok Nature Park was last month razed by the National Parks Board (NParks) over public safety concerns.

The plot of land had been covered with Albizia trees, which are considered vulnerable to storms and more prone to falling due to their brittle wood structure and shallow roots. NParks is now replanting the plot with native plants.

But the move has drawn concerns from conservationists, who worry that a blanket removal of vegetation could result in rarer species being cut down too, and also have an impact on wildlife.

Environmental consultant Tony O'Dempsey said: "I support the removal of potentially dangerous trees and I applaud the move to immediately replant the areas.

"However I would like to see a more analytical approach to tree removal where trees are assessed and removed only where necessary and with care so as not to damage the remaining vegetation...This is particularly important in areas such as this, where native animals such as the colugo, civet cat and flying squirrels are likely to be affected."

NParks' group director of streetscape Oh Cheow Sheng said decisions to remove trees are made in the interest of public safety after careful consideration.

In the Bukit Batok case, the Albizia trees with a treefall zone overlapping the road were removed together with a smaller number of dead trees and those in poor health. Three big, sturdy and healthy trees growing in the area were retained.

A treefall zone refers to the area that will be affected by a tree when it falls, said botanist Shawn Lum, a senior lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University's Asian School of the Environment. He noted that a falling tree may also cause collateral damage.

If a tree is, say, 30m tall, its potential treefall zone will be a circle of at least 30m around the tree in all directions, said Dr Lum, who is also president of the Nature Society (Singapore). "Factor in the extra distance a tree may fall or slide to if it is on a slope, or the fact that a falling tree may knock over other trees in its path...then a conservative radius of a treefall zone may be considerably wider than the height of the tree."

The importance of tree maintenance in Singapore was highlighted after a 40m-tall tembusu heritage tree in the Singapore Botanic Gardens fell and killed a woman in February.

St George's Church at Minden Road recently felled a 30m-tall tembusu tree on its premises after an arborist deemed it unhealthy. The church decided to have the tree inspected following the February incident.

Asked if NParks had taken more steps to reduce the chance of trees falling since the February case, Mr Oh said that the board has had a comprehensive tree management programme in place since the early 2000s.

"With the continued strengthening of our tree management regime over the years, the annual number of cases of fallen trees and branches has been reduced from about 3,000 in the year 2000 to about 800 cases in 2016," he said.

The Albizia, one of the fastest-growing species of trees in the world, can reach a height of more than 40m - about 11 storeys.

However, its rapid growth means that lower branches are shed quickly as they get shaded out by the branches above, said Dr Lum. "Given how massive the branches can be, falling Albizia branches are a real danger in areas used by people, in parks, for example."

However, Dr Lum said Albizia trees could be important to wildlife such as eagles that roost or nest only in very tall trees.

"While there is a real need to manage Albizia where people and property are at excessive risk, allowing Albizia, perhaps even encouraging it, in certain circumstances could be part of a holistic, ecologically aligned strategy for vegetation and wildlife management in Singapore" he said.


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Malaysia: Another Johor water treatment plant shuts down over ammonia pollution

Rizalman Hammim New Straits Times 19 Nov 17;

KLUANG: SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd (SAJ) was forced to shut down another water treatment plant on Saturday due to ammonia pollution, less than a month after closing three other plants in the state for the same reason.

The Sembrong Barat water treatment plant in Kluang was shut down for about 18 hours after the raw water source at the Sembrong Dam was found to contain an excessive amount of ammonia.

"The closure affected about 45,000 account holders, or about 225,000 consumers in Kluang," said SAJ.

The source of the ammonia pollution has been detected to the effluent retention pond of a palm oil mill in Jalan Batu Pahat, here.

State Health, Environment, Education and Information Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the effluent from the pond flowed into Sungai Amran, which is a tributary of Sungai Sembrong.

"This caused the ammonia level at the Sembrong Dam to rise to 20 parts per million (PPM), which caused SAJ Ranhill Sdn Bhd to shut down the plant," Ayub told reporters after visiting the mill.

He said the Department of Environment (DoE), under the Environment Quality Act 1974 issued a notice for the suspension of the mill's operation licence for three months effective immediately.

"The mill is also facing a maximum compound of RM250,000 by the Johor Water Regulatory Authority (BAKAJ) under the Johor Water Enactment. BAKAJ has also frozen the mill's application to extract underground water," said Ayub.

He said the mill would have to make repairs and improvements to the retention pond before the suspension can be lifted.

"Hopefully, this will be a lesson to the mill as well as for other industry players," said Ayub.

Also present were BAKAJ director Mohd Riduan Mohd Ali and officers from the Johor DoE and SAJ Ranhill.

Meanwhile, SAJ Ranhill general manager of production and distribution Elias Ismail said the Sembrong Barat water treatment plant was closed at about noon on Saturday after excessive levels of ammonia was found in the raw water source from the Sembrong Dam.

The plant resumed operations at about 5.30am this morning.

"Water supply to the affected areas has been restored in stages. We expect the water supply to recover fully by tomorrow morning," said Elias.

Earlier this month, three water treatment plants along Sungai Johor, namely the Semangar, Johor and Tai Hong plants, were forced to suspend operations due to ammonia pollution, which was traced to an illegal fertiliser processing farm.

The closure affected two million consumers in Johor Baru, Kulai and Kota Tinggi.


Another Johor water treatment plant shuts down due to ammonia pollution
Channel NewsAsia 19 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: Johor water supply provider SAJ Ranhill has been forced to shut down its fourth water treatment plant in under a month due to ammonia pollution.

In a statement on Saturday (Nov 18) night, the company said 45,000 account holders in Kluang would be affected by the closure of the plant in Sembrong Barat. This is equivalent to 225,000 consumers, the New Straits Times cited SAJ as saying.

Around 1.8 million residents in Johor Baru were affected after the company shut down operations in three plants in late October due to the high levels of ammonia found in their raw water from Johor River.

Following this, a chicken farm and fertiliser factory found to be polluting the river were closed by the state government.


Ammonia pollution hits Johor water plant, Singapore not affected
TRINNA LEONG The New Paper 20 Nov 17;

Water in Malaysia's Johor state has been hit by another round of ammonia pollution which shut down a treatment plant and cut water supply to 225,000 consumers.

Utility firm SAJ Ranhill said in a statement on Saturday night that raw water in the Sembrong dam in Kluang district was found to have high ammonia content and that it had stopped operations at its Sembrong West water treatment plant.

The plant resumed operations yesterday morning, the company told The Straits Times, and water supply would be restored to affected consumers in stages starting from yesterday evening.

A palm oil processing factory was identified as the source of the contamination, after the Department of Environment conducted a site visit with Johor State Health, Environment, Education and Information Executive Committee chairman Ayub Rahmat.

According to national news agency Bernama, Mr Ayub said the factory's operating licence was immediately suspended for three months to allow the factory operator to conduct cleaning works and ensure factory waste is not discharged into a nearby river.

Mr Ayub said he has also asked Johor's water regulator Badan Kawalselia Air Johor to impose the maximum compound fine of RM250,000 (S$81,435) on the factory operator.

Singapore was not affected by the plant's closure because the Sembrong dam is not part of the Johor River catchment from where Singapore draws some of its water.

This latest case of water pollution comes weeks after two million consumers in Johor Baru, Kulai and Kota Tinggi were affected by water cuts after three water treatment plants along the Johor River, also operated by Ranhill, were forced to suspend their operations over ammonia pollution. 
- ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AUDREY TAN IN SINGAPORE

Ammonia pollution shuts down another water treatment plant in Johor
Trinna Leong Straits Times 19 Nov 17;

KUALA LUMPUR - Water in Malaysia’s Johor state has been hit by another round of ammonia pollution which shut down a treatment plant and cut water supply to 225,000 consumers.

Utility firm SAJ Ranhill on Saturday (Nov 18) night said in a statement that raw water in the Sembrong dam in Kluang district was found to have high ammonia content and that it had stopped operations at its Sembrong West water treatment plant.

But the plant resumed operations on Sunday morning, the company told The Straits Times, and water supply will be restored to affected consumers in stages starting from this evening.

“Kluang consumers will get their water supply in stages starting late this evening,” said Elias Ismail, SAJ Ranhill’s general manager for production and distribution on Sunday.

A palm oil processing factory was identified as the source of the contamination, after the Department of Environment conducted a site visit with Johor State Health, Environment, Education and Information Executive Committee chairman Ayub Rahmat.

According to national news agency Bernama, Datuk Ayub said the factory’s operating licence was immediately suspended for three months to allow the factory operator to conduct cleaning works and ensure factory waste is not discharged into a nearby river.

Mr Ayub said he has also requested Johor’s water regulator Badan Kawalselia Air Johor to impose the maximum compound fine of RM250,000 (S$81,436) on the factory operator.

This latest case of water pollution comes weeks after two million consumers in Johor Baru, Kulai and Kota Tinggi were affected by water cuts after three water treatment plants along the Johor River, also operated by Ranhill, were forced to suspend their operations over ammonia pollution.

The pollution was later traced to an illegal fertiliser processing plant and poultry farm operating by the river in Kluang.

Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong said water cuts have become a norm in the district, with various reasons given for rationing, including upgrading, pollution and scheduled maintenance.

“At the moment the level of water stored in the water reservoir is insufficient to cope with demand during down time,” said Mr Liew in a post on his Facebook page.

“With proper planning, even if problems exist at the supply source, it would not disrupt normal usage,” he added.

Singapore was not affected by the plant’s closure because the Sembrong dam is not part of the Johor River catchment from where Singapore draws its water.

Additional reporting from Audrey Tan in Singapore


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Climate change campaigns on the cards for Singapore in 2018

Audrey Tan Straits Times 18 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE - The Republic is ramping up efforts to tackle climate change on a new frontier: public perception. This will supplement its existing suite of strategies that affect mainly industries.

On Thursday (Nov 16), Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said at a climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, that Singapore will be designating next year as the Year of Climate Action, to instil awareness among citizens and inspire them to act.

On what this would entail, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (Mewr) told The Straits Times that there will be outreach efforts to "bring into the national consciousness the impacts of climate change and the urgency of reducing our carbon footprint to build a sustainable future for generations to come".

The ministry spokesman did not give details of these efforts, but said: "We will also be working closely with the community, businesses, schools and non-government organisations to rally them to this cause."

The Government's move to increase awareness about climate change among people was welcomed by green groups such as the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and the Singapore Youth for Climate Action.

"Climate change is arguably the most important issue of our time," said SEC executive director Jen Teo. "It is important that everyone, including businesses and individuals, understands what climate change is and supports the Government's strategy to combat it."

Climate change refers to the human-induced warming of the Earth, due to deforestation and the excessive consumption of resources that result in the production of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

SEC’s Ms Teo said the council will be working closely with the ministry on the issue of climate change. Campaigns could include "experiential education", and involve people taking action through reducing waste, or participating in urban farming, or learning more about consuming home-grown produce, for example. Eating local could reduce greenhouse gas emissions as fewer resources are needed to transport goods from farm to market.

The amount of waste in Singapore has grown from 5.02 million tonnes in 2005 to 7.67 million tonnes in 2015, which is why many campaigns in Singapore are looking to reduce this.

Ms Nor Lastrina Hamid, co-founder of the Singapore Youth for Climate Action and #LepakInSG, a website which lists environmental events in Singapore, said campaigns in Singapore's Year of Climate Action could be aligned with regional or international events.

For example, the International Coral Reef Initiative - a worldwide campaign which advocates the conservation of marine habitats - has declared that 2018 will be the third International Year of the Reef, she said.

"The Singapore marine community has come together this year to organise outreach activities for the entire year, and I think that is amazing. To help raise awareness for the International Year of the Reef, #LepakInSG has a young team organising a workshop in December, and planning a series of workshops for 2018. Moving forward, the #LepakInSG team and the marine community might want to consider highlighting the climate change aspects more."

Warming sea surface temperatures resulted in Singapore's corals suffering from the longest bleaching incident on record last year.

Miss Pamela Low, also from the Singapore Youth for Climate Action, said campaigns should relate to the daily lives of Singaporeans, and allow them to take action.

"Content has to be bottom-up for people to feel confident and empowered that they can make a difference to climate change... It starts with bringing our own containers for takeaways. It starts with sorting your trash, turning your air-con (temperature) up a few degrees," she said.

"Campaigns have to show Singaporeans how their action adds up collectively. The (discussions over a possible) plastic bag charge forced people to think about plastics and trash. Similarly, we need more conversations and solutions that reflect on global and local case studies."

During the climate conference in Bonn, Mr Masagos said raising awareness about climate change among people will supplement Singapore's other climate change resilience strategies.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, Singapore has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels, come 2030. Emissions intensity is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product. Singapore has also pledged to stop any increase to its greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030.

The nation has implemented a slew of strategies to achieve these targets. These include enhancements made this year to its Energy Conservation Act, which aims to get large polluters to be more energy efficient, and plans to implement a carbon tax from 2019.

The Republic has also pumped money into research for innovations that can help the island-state develop sustainably. It is banking on solar power to reduce its reliance on natural gas, and has invested in ways to better harness energy from the sun, by piloting floating solar systems, for example.

A Mewr spokesman said: "The Government alone cannot tackle climate change; it requires the collective action of all stakeholders - businesses, communities, non-government organisations and individuals. Every positive action counts, and can help to reduce our carbon footprint."


Analysis: Softer approach to climate change could bridge gap between awareness and action
Audrey Tan Straits Times 18 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE - The Republic is embarking on a new approach to tackling climate change. By designating the year 2018 as its Year of Climate Action, Singapore wants to raise awareness among people through campaigns, in hopes that it would spur them to act.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli announced this at an international climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, earlier this week.

This approach is considerably "softer" than Singapore's current suite of regulatory strategies, which affect mainly industries. Amendments to the Energy Conservation Act, for example, slap harsher punishments on large polluters for being energy inefficient.

But the soft touch is crucial, especially when it comes to changing mindsets.

Climate change is a topic that is heavy politicised and debated in countries such as the United States. But many Singaporeans appear apathetic about it, even against a backdrop of increasingly frequent and more extreme weather events, which scientists say is symptomatic of climate change.

For instance, this year's pre-Budget feedback conducted by government feedback unit Reach showed that issues such as family support, job security and employment prospects were topics that gripped the nation's attention instead.

That is not to say that Singaporeans are totally unaware about climate change, though.

In 2013, the National Climate Change Secretariat did a public perception survey of 1,000 respondents. It showed that about seven in 10 people were concerned about climate change.

The trick, then, is to narrow the gap between awareness and action.

The way to do this, says Miss Pamela Low from the Singapore Youth for Climate Action, is to get people to feel "confident and empowered that they can make a difference to climate change".

Climate change refers to the human-induced warming of the Earth, due to deforestation and the excessive consumption of resources that results in the production of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

It may appear daunting and inexorable to many people, but the fact is that every individual can play a part, by simply reducing the amount of resources they use.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources would not be drawn to reveal details on the types of outreach activities that would be conducted next year, saying only that it would work with a range of stakeholders on the topic.

But non-governmental groups such as the Singapore Youth for Climate Action and the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) already have some ideas, ranging from campaigns to talks in schools.

However, Ms Nor Lastrina Hamid, co-founder of the Singapore Youth for Climate Action, believes there is room for something bolder.

"With regard to the tactics employed in Singapore so far, I think most have been keeping it mild by organising talks, workshops, or online campaigns. I think there are opportunities to expand this to other forms of tactics or... forum theatre, or mass street action. The citizen action on climate change can be a bit more engaging and entertaining to the larger crowd," she told The Straits Times.

Indeed, conventional campaigns, such as the Earth Hour campaign by the World Wide Fund for Nature, have been ongoing in Singapore for years. Their successes at spurring action, however, may be limited.

For instance, Singapore has done poorly in recycling, with a domestic recycling rate of 21 per cent in 2016, even though there are recycling bins under every one of the 10,000 or so Housing Board blocks here.

In comparison, Taiwan has a household recycling rate of 55 per cent. Germany's recycling rate for municipal waste is 64 per cent and that of South Korea is 59 per cent, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

So, Singapore has some ways to go at spurring climate action, and more creative campaigns could be just the thing. With the new focus on outreach, however, 2018 could just be a year of change.


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Singapore receives first import of live pigs from Malaysia in 18 years

Channel NewsAsia 18 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: The first shipment of live pigs from Malaysia in 18 years arrived in Singapore on Saturday (Nov 18), said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Imports of live pigs and raw pork from Malaysia were suspended in 1999 due to a Nipah virus outbreak. Since then, Singapore's only source of live pigs has been from Pulau Bulan in Indonesia.

Even though there have been no reports of new Nipah virus outbreaks in Malaysia, the import suspension stayed because of Foot Mouth Disease (FMD).

However, Sarawak in East Malaysia was declared free of FMD in 2010 by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

AVA then approved frozen pork from Sarawak in 2015 and earlier this year, it gave the go-ahead for live pigs from a farm in the state.

"The import of raw pork from other parts of Malaysia is not permitted as they are not free of FMD," said AVA. "Only processed pork products from approved establishments in Malaysia that have been heat-treated to inactivate FMD are allowed to be imported from Malaysia."

Singapore's pork supply comes from 24 countries that have been accredited by the AVA to export frozen pork products. Six countries, including Australia, the US and Canada, are allowed to export chilled pork to Singapore.

With the approval of imports from Sarawak, Singapore now has two sources of live pigs. They are slaughtered locally and sold as chilled pork, said AVA.

"Source diversification is a key food security strategy. Purchasing from diverse sources provides a crucial buffer against potential short-term overseas food supply disruptions from any one source," it added.
Source: CNA/gs


First shipment of live pigs from Malaysia in 18 years arrive in Singapore
VICTOR LOH Today Online 18 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE — The first shipment of live pigs from Malaysia in 18 years arrived in Singapore on Saturday (Nov 18), providing the Republic with a second source of live pigs, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said in a statement.

Imports of live pigs and raw pork from Malaysia was suspended in 1999 due to a Nipah virus outbreak. Since then, Singapore had only received imports of live pigs from from Pulau Bulan in Indonesia.

Following an assessment of Sarawak’s animal and veterinary public health programme, the AVA approved local pork processor and distributor OJJ Foods Pte Ltd to import the live pigs from a Sarawak farm this year.

This comes two years after the ban of frozen pork from the Malaysian state was lifted in 2015.

The pigs from Malaysia are lifted out of the vessel for loading onto the truck on Saturday (Nov 18). Photo: AVA

In a news release on Saturday, the AVA said source diversification is a key food security strategy. “Purchasing from diverse sources provides a crucial buffer against potential short-term overseas food supply disruptions from any one source,” the authority added.

Managing director of OJJ Foods, Mr Ting Puong Huat, 61, said his company has been working with the farm in Kuching for several years. “We worked closely with the farm to make sure that they understand Singapore’s requirements. This took many years to get to that level,” he said.

“The pigs are of very good genetics and lean. The colour and the taste are suited for local consumers,” Mr Ting added.
 Meanwhile, the World Organisation for Animal Health has also recognised Sarawak as a Foot Mouth Disease (FMD) free region since 2010.

However, the ban of raw pork from other parts of Malaysia still stays due to the presence of FMD in these areas, which may jeopardise Singapore’s FMD-free status and adversely impacting export trade.

Only processed pork products from approved establishments in Malaysia that have been heat-treated to inactivate FMD are allowed to be imported from Malaysia.

Singapore’s pork supply comes from 24 countries that have been accredited by the AVA for frozen pork products, and 6 countries — including Australia, Canada and USA — can export chilled pork to Singapore. Indonesia (Pulau Bulan) and now Malaysia (Sarawak), are accredited to export live pigs to Singapore. These pigs are slaughtered locally and sold as chilled pork.

Over 90 per cent of food supply in Singapore over the past two years was imported from some 170 countries worldwide.

Singapore receives first import of live pigs from Malaysia in 18 years
Tiffany Fumiko Tay Straits Times 18 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE - Singapore received its first shipment of live pigs from Malaysia in 18 years on Saturday (Nov 18), after a farm in Sarawak became the only approved source in the country to export live pigs to the Republic.

Its addition makes it Singapore's second source of live pigs, after Pulau Bulan in Indonesia. Live pigs are slaughtered locally and sold as chilled pork.

The import of all live pigs and raw pork from Malaysia has been banned since 1999, when an outbreak of the Nipah virus, which is carried by pigs, killed 100 pig farmers in Malaysia and an abattoir worker here.

In a statement on Saturday, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said while there have been no reports of new Nipah virus outbreaks in Malaysia, the suspension remains otherwise in place.

This is because raw pork from other parts of the country are not free of foot and mouth disease, the AVA said. Processed pork products from approved establishments in Malaysia must be heat-treated to inactivate the disease in order to be permitted for import.

Foot and mouth disease is a contagious livestock disease that does not have any impact on food safety. However, the import of animals or meat from affected regions jeopardises Singapore's foot and mouth disease-free status, and may adversely impact export trade, the AVA said.

Sarawak was recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health as a foot and mouth disease-free region in 2010.

The AVA subsequently assessed the East Malaysian state's animal and veterinary public health programmes and approved it to export frozen pork in 2015. This year, it approved a farm there to export live pigs to Singapore.

"Source diversification is a key food security strategy. Purchasing from diverse sources provides a crucial buffer against potential short-term overseas food supply disruptions from any one source," the AVA said.

There are currently 24 countries accredited by the AVA to export frozen pork products to Singapore, including Australia, Austria and Brazil. Six other countries, including Canada and the United States, are accredited to export chilled pork to Singapore.

Singapore imported 116,700 tonnes of pork last year (2016), with Brazil, Indonesia and Australia making up the top three sources. Live imports from Indonesia meanwhile accounted for 20,300 tonnes the same year.

Sources of livestock, meat and eggs, and their products must be accredited as these products may carry animal and food-borne disease of public health and trade importance, the AVA said.

Food imported from accredited sources is also subjected to import requirements and routine surveillance, inspection, and sampling.


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Heavy rain causes flash floods at Yishun, Mandai Road

Channel NewsAsia 18 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: A heavy downpour on Saturday afternoon (Nov 18) caused flash floods at Yishun and along Mandai Road, said national water agency PUB.

It warned in a Facebook post at about 4.45pm that water level at Yishun Avenue 2, Yishun Avenue 5 as well as Mandai Road had risen, and there was a "high flood risk".

At one HDB carpark in Yishun, the wheels of vehicles were partially submerged, as seen in a video by Channel NewsAsia reader Johan Fayd Kamal Doral.

Heavy rain fell over many parts of Singapore in the afternoon.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) had put out a heavy rain warning at about 4.15pm, saying that moderate to heavy thundery showers with gusty winds were expected over many areas.

Amid the rain, several accidents were reported, including one at Sembawang Road at around 4.55pm.

Two people were taken to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

According to the Met Service in an advisory on Friday, the wet weather experienced in the first half of November is expected to persist for the rest of the month.

With November usually being the second-wettest month of the year after December, "moderate to heavy thundery showers" are expected mostly in the afternoons on six to eight days of the month, said the Met Service.
Source: CNA/am


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Malaysia: ‘We must protect Sg Johor’

nelson benjamin The Star 18 Nov 17;

JOHOR BARU: Sg Johor, an important fresh water resource to both Malaysia and Singapore, needs to be protected as its water quality is slowly deteriorating, according to an expert.

UTM Water Research Alliance dean of research Prof Dr Zulkifli Yusof said the river, stretching 2,636sq km could easily be polluted by sludge, agricultural activity, mining and sand extraction.

“This year alone, there were two major pollution cases which resul­ted in tens of thousands of people going without water.

“This river does not only supply water domestically, but also 250 million gallons to Singapore daily,” Prof Zulkifli said in an interview with The Star.

“This will provide a better platform to manage the river and its ecosystem, which includes limiting the pollution loading according to the river capacity,’’ Prof Zulkifli said, adding that complete research could take up to two years.

Prof Zulkifli said over the years, the river water quality had also deteriorated to a murky state.

“My worry is that with the rainy season nowadays, more of the palm oil mills’ waste ponds might overflow and cause pollution along Sg Johor,” he said.

Last month, more than a million consumers in Johor Baru were without water after Sg Johor was polluted due to ammonia from a fertiliser factory.

Prof Zulkifli suggested that the state government give more clout to the State Water Regulatory Body (Bakaj) including upgrading them to an authority with more manpower.

Prof Zulkifli also added that Johor needed to adopt a “polluters pay principle” to ensure those who polluted the state's water resources were fined heavily.

“This money collected should then be used for cleanup and conservation efforts,” he said.

Prof Zulkifli also cautioned that due to climate change, there will be more rainfall while the dry seasons would become longer.

"We need to find a way to adapt to these changes," he added.


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Malaysia: Johor water pollution - Proposed act will solve cross-jurisdictional issues

ALIZA SHAH New Straits Times 19 Nov 17;

THE proposed Environmental Protection Act (EPA) will address cross-jurisdictional issues and make clear grey areas between federal and state authorities that had inevitably “allowed” irreversible damage to the environment.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said among major provisions in the law, which is being fine-tuned, included federal departments being empowered to act against industries found to be polluting river reserves.

The ministry will also under the law be empowered to force illegal factories to relocate or shut down.

“Remember the Semenyih incident where the (Semenyih river) was polluted by illegal factories... When it happened, we could not act as the matter fell under the jurisdiction of the local authority... the ministry’s agencies were forced to go back and forth to the local council.

“Under the proposed law, our enforcers will have the power to compel such factories to close down or move.

“It will be clear cut and there will be no shifting of blame,” he told the New Sunday Times.

The Sungai Semenyih Water treatment plant was forced to shut down twice last year following contamination caused by pollutants released from factories in the Semenyih hi-tech industrial area.

This resulted in a prolonged water supply disruption in the districts of Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat, Petaling and Sepang.

The proposed law, he added, would also introduce a new enforcement approach, tagged as the “7 Environmental Management Tools (EMT)”, which would make it compulsory for industries and development sectors to self-regulate.

“Part of our effort is to introduce a cleaner production approach by having industries install physical monitoring infrastructure.

For example, if they discharge smoke, then it should be measured and the reading must comply with the Environmental Quality Monitoring Programme (EQMP).

“Our enforcers will ensure that the system and the regulation put in place are implemented and adhered to by industry players,” he said.

He said the ministry was also expending its role to regulate the animal husbandry industry.

“I am fed up with all those flies coming from animal farms... now, it is under the jurisdiction of the Veterinary Department and Health Ministry.

“We need to control the discharge of waste and effluents.”

Three water treatment plants in Johor were closed a few months ago due to ammonia pollution caused by an illegal poultry farm and a factory that made fertiliser using chicken manure.

The ministry, in response to this, called for enactment of laws requiring chicken farms and fertiliser manufacturers to apply for permits and be subjected to a set of regulations and penalties.


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Malaysia: What the Penang floods say about Malaysian politics (and it's not just about climate change)

The freak storm that hit Penang, killing seven, is notable not only for occurring in a place famed for mild weather – it wouldn’t be Malaysia if such an event weren’t politicised
OOI KEE BENG South China Morning Post 15 Nov 17;

Extreme weather hits most places on Earth every now and then, and recently more than ever. But when freak storms appear with an intensity stronger and more devastating than living memory can recall, it is wise to conclude that we should not take blue skies and cooling rainfalls for granted.

More obviously, governments should begin thinking very seriously about how the effects of dramatic climatic change can be mitigated at the most local level. If there is any lesson to be learned from the tropical storm that hit northern Malaysia, most notably the state of Penang, on the weekend of November 4-5, this is it.

Weather systems seem to have shifted, and the people of Penang, where the weather has almost always been mild, and where disasters are queer events that take place elsewhere, were totally surprised by an extremely heavy overnight downpour accompanied by high-velocity winds that brought down dozens of trees, and countless branches, onto fences, roads, houses and cars.

Seven people died.

Penang being Penang – a state defiantly run by the federal opposition since 2008, and which has for two mandate periods now been a poke in the eye of the powerful and long-standing central government – it has been difficult for many to consider the floods simply as a natural disaster. Instead, some schadenfreude was initially evident, and fingers were pointed at the state government. But to be fair, much of this was done before most people realised how bad the situation actually was.

It did not help that there had been some flash flooding and landslides a couple of months earlier on an unprecedented scale, though a scale now dwarfed by the November storm.

A construction site landslide that took 11 lives on October 21 had further shocked the people of Penang into demanding answers and action from the Pakatan Harapan government led by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. His government has set up a commission of inquiry into the latter incident.

Civil society groups had been demanding for years that the state and local governments exercise more control over hillside developments.

The political pressure had therefore been mounting on Lim before the storm hit on the night of November 4. Perhaps because of that, the chief minister was fast in responding to the latest crisis.

When natural disasters hit, especially in areas usually free of them, the apparatus of the state is generally found wanting. That appeared to be the case in Penang. The floods came fast and furious in the middle of the night, accompanied by winds howling like banshees, toppling trees and tearing off branches. Understandably, most services were paralysed. The extent of the crisis immobilised large parts of the island and the mainland.

Lim called for help from the military in the middle of the night, and very quickly put into place a recovery plan to lessen the anxiety of many who were still shocked at how much they had lost, and how suddenly.

Initial efforts taken by certain members of parliament and community leaders proved of limited use, however. Getting food and drink to the afflicted, for example, proved difficult because roads were still badly flooded and accessibility was hugely limited. But they persevered.

Steven Sim, Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam on the mainland side, which was perhaps the worst affected constituency, was one of those who moved quickly to bring help into flooded areas.

He said: “The damage was so broad that getting food, and getting enough trucks together to ferry the food into the worst affected regions, proved quite impossible at first. But the sense of solidarity was immense, and we soon had someone bringing in huge amounts of newly baked bread to the victims.

“Although the army did arrive with trucks and what not, they were not being given instructions by their commanders to get into the thick of things.”

What turned the tide, as it were, in bringing aid to the thousands afflicted by the waters that rose as high as 12 feet, was the quick response of the community. Aid soon came from across Malaysia, donated by generous Malaysians and brought in by concerned and compassionate individuals. Volunteers appeared from near and far, some coming up from Johor, the southernmost state on the peninsula. The speed at which debris was cleared away and houses and streets washed clean was astounding, a testimony to how Penangites and Malaysians rose to the occasion to help their fellow citizens.

However, it would not be Malaysia if the flood disaster were not politicised. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi considered the occasion a time of political opportunity, and thinking that the disaster had hurt the standing of the Penang government, said that the floods were “a sign from God that the state was ripe for the taking”.

The disaster also took place while the Malaysian parliament was in the middle of its debate over the federal budget. To a question from a Penang member of parliament on whether the federal government intended to use resources from its contingency fund to aid Penang’s flood victims, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Shahidan Kassim, said the opposition’s criticism of the budget proposal as a whole was a rejection of potential federal aid and the federal opposition was therefore not in support of aid to those victims.

Such quaint logic notwithstanding, in the aftermath of the aid efforts mounted by all and sundry, and after all the relief centres had been closed, it appears that the Penang state government despite certain clear weaknesses concerning its overall ability to act in a crisis, gained much sympathy for its overall compassionate handling of the situation. The tremendous solidarity shown by common folk and by volunteers of all colours and persuasions under their watch – notwithstanding some reports of dishonest individuals pretending to be victims in order to obtain donated items – is a credit to Malaysians in general, and is not something to be scoffed at.

The fact remains though that islands are the frontline victims of climate change, and for a small and hilly island like Penang, environmental management and developmental prudence will hopefully become an increasingly important consideration in the policymaking of the state government, as it has to be for all governments today.

Ooi Kee Beng is the executive director of the Penang Institute, the public policy think tank funded by the Penang state government


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Indonesia: Tiny Timbulsloko fights back in face of ‘ecological disaster’

David Robie in Semarang, Indonesia Asia Pacific Report 18 Nov 17;

A vast coastal area of the Indonesian city of Semarang, billed nine months ago by a national newspaper as “on the brink of ecological disaster”, is fighting back with a valiant survival strategy.

Thanks to a Dutch mangrove restoration programme and flexible bamboo-and-timber “eco” seawalls, some 70,000 people at risk in the city of nearly two million have some slim hope for the future.

An area that was mostly rice fields and villages on the edge of the old city barely two decades ago has now become “aquatic” zones as flooding high tides encroach on homes.

Onetime farmers have been forced to become fishermen.

Villagers living in Bedono, Sriwulan, Surodadi and Timbulsloko in Demak regency and urban communities in low-lying parts of the city are most at risk.

Residents have been forced to raise their houses or build protective seawalls or be forced to abandon their homes when their floors become awash.

Environmental changes in Semarang have been blamed by scientists on anthropogenic and “natural” factors such as tidal and river flooding – known locally as rob, mangroves destruction since the 1990s, fast urban growth and extensive groundwater extraction.

Climate change

This has been compounded by climate change with frequent and extreme storms.

It has been a pattern familiar in many other low-lying coastal areas in Indonesia, such as the capital Jakarta and second-largest city Surabaya.

In February, The Jakarta Post reported that both Jakarta and Semarang faced environmental crises.

Citing Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) researcher Henny Warsilah, a graduate of Paris I-Sorbonne University in France, who measured the resilience of three coastal cities – Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya – the Post noted only Surabaya had built sufficient environmental and social resilience to face natural disasters.

Jakarta and Semarang, Warsilah said, “were not doing very well”. Although Surabaya was faring much better with its urban policies.

The fate of some five million people living in Indonesia’s at risk coastal areas – including Semarang — was also profiled in the Indonesian edition of National Geographic magazine last month under the banner headline “Takdir Sang Pesisis” – “The destiny of the coast”.

The introduction asked: “”The disappearance of the mangrove belt now haunts seaside residents. How can they respond to a disaster that is imminent?”

Ongoing reclamation

According to The Jakarta Post, Semarang “has ongoing reclamation projects in the northern part of the city, which threaten to submerge entire neighbourhoods in the next 20 years”.

“The more [the city] is expanded, the more land will subside because the region is a former volcanic eruption zone, and it is a swamp area,” says Warsilah.

“With the progression of the reclamation projects, the land is not strong enough to withstand the pressure.”

With a team of international geologists and researchers attached to Semarang’s Center for Disaster Mitigation and Coastal Rehabilitation Studies (CoREM) at Diponegoro University, I had the opportunity to visit Timbulsloko village earlier this month to see the growing “crisis” first hand.

City planners might see the only option as the residents being forced to leave for higher ground, but there appear to be no plans in place for this. In any case, local people defiantly say they want to stay and will adapt to the sinking conditions.

One woman, a local shopkeeper, who has a three-generations household in the village with water encroaching into her home at most high tides, says she won’t leave with a broad smile.

I talked to her through an interpreter as she sat with her mother and youngest daughter on a roadside bamboo shelter.

“I have lived here for a long time, and I am very happy with the situation. My husband has his work here as a fisherman,” she said.

A local storekeeper with her mother and youngest daughter – three generations live in her Timbulsloko village home. Video: David Robie’s Café Pacific.

‘We don’t want to leave’

“We live with the flooding and we don’t want to leave.”

She also said there was no clear viable alternative for the people of the village – there was no plan by the local authorities for relocation.

Later, she showed me inside her house and how far the water flooded across the floors. Electrical items, such as a television, had to be placed on raised furniture. The children slept on high beds, and the adults clambered onto cupboards to get some rest.

The village has a school, community centre, a mosque and a church – most of these with a sufficiently high foundation to be above the seawater.

However, the salination means that crops and vegetables cannot grow.

The community cemetery is also awash at high tide and there have been reports of eroded graves and sometimes floating bodies to the distress of families.

We were warned “don’t touch anything with your hands” as the flooding also causes a health hazard.

Research projects


The situation has attracted a number of research projects in an effort to find solutions to some of the problems, the latest being part of the 2017 World Class Professor (WCP) programme funded by the Indonesian government.

Two of the six professors on the University of Gadjah Mada’s WCP programme, in partnership with Diponegoro University, are working with local researchers at CoREM.

They are geologists Dr Magaly Koch, from the Centre for Remote Sensing at Boston University, US, and Dr David Menier, associate professor HDR at Université de Bretage-Sud, France, who are partnered with Dr Muhammad Helmi, also a geologist and director of CoREM, and Dr Manoj Mathew. Both Dr Mathew and Dr Menier are of LGO Laboratoire Géosciences Océan.

“At the regional scale, the rate of subsidence is related to the geological and geomorphological context. North Java is a coastal plain that is very flat, silty to muddy, influenced by offshore controlling factors (e.g., wave, longshore drifts, tidal currents etc.) and monsoons, and surrounded by volcanoes,” explains Dr Menier.

“Locally, anthropogenic factors can play a serious role as well.”

He says that coastal plains are dynamic. However, human activities are fixed – “the first contradiction”.

“Humans want to control and continue their livelihood, and are reluctant to accept changes related to their own activities or natural factors.”

Dr Menier says the subsidence is due to many factors, but some key issues have never been studied.

On a long term scale, the active faults of the area need to be examined in a geodynamic context and also volcanic activity with Mt Urganan and Mt Muria/Medak.

“We need to have a better understanding of the age of the coastal plain in order to reconstruct the past, explain the present-day and predict the future,” he says.

“Colonisation in the 17th century-Dutch period probably led to destruction of ecosystems (mangrove) and fine sediment usually trapped by plants has been stopped.”

Dr Koch adds: “Subsidence rates and their spatial distribution along the coastal plain need to be studied in detail using InSAR techniques. Groundwater abstraction (using deep wells) is probably happening in the city of Semarang but not necessarily in Demak.”

Mangrove restoration

Mangrove restoration and mitigation has been used successfully to restore coastal resilience and ecosystems in Timbulsloko.

While noting that “high failure rates are typical” due to wrong special being planted and other factors, Dr Dolfi Debrot, of a Dutch project consortium, argues “given the right conditions, mangrove recovery actually works best without planting at all.”

The consortium involves Witteveen+Bos, Deltares, EcoShape, Wetlands International, Wageningen University and IMARES.

However, community planting is also a strategy deployed in the lowland villages.

Mangroves revitalise aquaculture ponds for crab and shrimp farming.

A “growing land” technique borrowed from the muddy Wadden Sea in the Netherlands has also been used successfully at Timbulsloko and other villages.

Semi-permeable dams are built from bamboo or wooden poles packed with branches to “dampen wave action”. In time, a build up of sediment settles and allows mangroves to grow naturally.

“These eco-engineering seawalls are better than the concrete fixed barriers,” says Dr Helmi. “The permanent seawalls in turn become eroded at their base and eventually fall over.”

Dr David Robie is on the WCP programme with Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta.


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Vietnam: Rain, waves and rising seas erode Hoi An beaches

VietNamNet Bridge 18 Nov 17;

Nearly 70 per cent of a newly grown protective forest and a large area of Cua Dai Beach have been washed away by large waves, intense rains and a higher sea level since last year.

Head of the city’s natural resources and environment office Nguyen Van Hien told Viet Nam News last week that 3ha out of 4.35ha of casuarinas forest have completely eroded, while waves are still smashing into a sea dyke system of Vinpearl Hoi An Resort and Villas.

“We have yet to find an effective solution to curb beach and protective forest erosion. Waves are rising higher and stronger and damaging barriers,” Hien said. “Sandbags and protective measures had been set up to ease erosion, but they can only help a little.”

Meanwhile, a pristine stretch of sand spanning from An Bang Beach to Cua Dai Beach – a favourite beach of foreign tourists in Hoi An – has gradually disappeared with each passing day.

“I had to walk 100m down the beach to get to the water last year, but now waves are splashing on my feet and uprooted the casuarina forest. Every thing went down to water, while waves carried in rubbish to cover the beach,” said Nguyen Van Tai, a resident of Cua Dai Ward. “Big waves with hard rain and strong wind in recent days approached closer to the coastal Cua Dai road during the high tide at night.”

He said an area of beach 2km long and 200m wide has eroded in three months during an unusually severe rainy season.
A section of an 1,100m Geotube sandbag dyke on Cua Dai Beach, between Palm Garden Resort and Agribank Hoi An Resort, was broken by rising sea water and waves since early this week (from October 28th).

According to the latest report from Hoi An City, more than 20ha beach washed away between 2009-14.

Last year, an area of 4,000sq.m of Cua Dai Beach, 5km from Hoi An City’s ancient town, disappeared after a series of tropical low pressure storms and heavy downpours hit the central coastal region.

Despite the construction of a 1,100m Geotube sandbag dyke, positioned under the water 60m off the beach, big waves still crash onto the beach and wash the sand away between November and April.

Nearly VND200 billion (US$8 million) was used to build sea dykes or temporary embankments with bamboo and sandbags, as well as the Geotube sandbag in protection of the beach.

The city and the Agency for Development of France (AFD) agreed to conduct a survey of beach nourishment as a sustainable and effective protection of Cua Dai Beach with an investment of 136,000 euro ($327,000), but it will not begin until 2018.

An expert from Hoi An City blamed the erosion on the construction of resorts on the beach and the lack of proper environmental assessments before dredging the estuary. Construction of hydropower plants on the upstream Thu Bon River and the over-exploitation of sand were believed to have caused the shortage of muddy sand.

The city has been calling for investment in replanting 140ha of nipa palm (a species of palm native to the coastlines) along the Thu Bon River to reduce sand erosion in Cua Dai Beach.

French-Vietnamese architect Bui Kien Quoc, who lives in Hoi An, predicted erosion would hit An Bang Beach, 2km away from Cua Dai Beach, within the next few years.

The Cua Dai Beach area witnesses sea encroachment of 50-200m annually.


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Australia: Rare dolphins and dugongs die after being caught in fishing nets, Barrier Reef authority says

Louisa Rebgetz ABC News 19 Nov 17;

Dugongs and snubfin dolphins have died after being caught in commercial fishing nets in northern Queensland waters, authorities have confirmed.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) said two snubfin dolphins drowned after being caught in a commercial fishing net operation in October.

"The fisher who caught the dolphins followed all required fishing rules and protocols, including attendance of the net and reporting of the incident," a GBRMPA spokesperson said.

In September and October, four dugongs were found dead in Bowling Green Bay near Townsville, with at least one killed by a commercial fishing net.

GBRMPA said a second dead dugong was found floating in close proximity to a commercial netting operation, while the other two carcasses in the area were too decomposed to determine a cause of death.

The authority only released the information in response to a media inquiry and has refused to reveal where the snubfin dolphins died, due to privacy concerns.

It also said it could not release photographs of the dead dolphins for privacy reasons.

The snubfin dolphins were recovered by marine park officers and taken to a university for research and examination.

"Some of these unfortunate marine mammal deaths relating to net fishing reinforce the importance of mitigating risks and ensuring ecologically sustainable fishery management arrangements are in place adjacent to and throughout the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park," the spokesperson said.

'Barrier Reef needs more net-free zones'

The gillnet deaths have outraged conservationists.

Gillnets are long rectangular nets which are set horizontally along the ocean floor.

WWF Australia head of oceans Richard Leck said more had to be done to prevent such tragic outcomes.

"This is a really tragic incident to hear about. These snubfin dolphins are a rare Australian species they are only found in Australian waters and they're a vulnerable species," he said.

Mr Leck said many gillnet deaths were not reported.

He said WWF Australia was calling for the establishment of an 85,000-square-kilometre net-free zone in north Queensland.

"We're calling for the major parties to commit to more net-free zones in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, starting with a large net free zone in the north of Queensland."

Mr Leck also encouraged GBRMPA to be more transparent and to keep people updated on when marine mammal deaths occurred.

"We need this information to be in the public realm to inform people what's happening and to get those best solutions to protect these very vulnerable and incredibly charismatic species into the future."

GBRMPA said there were no further investigations into the deaths as fishers followed all reporting protocols.

It also said the deaths were reported with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and made public in annual reports.


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