Best of our wild blogs: 29 Apr 16


Saving Bidadari
Singapore Bird Group


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Pulau Ubin's kampung spirit alive and well: NHB project

Lianne Chia and Alicia Tantriady Channel NewsAsia 29 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: Far from being a sleepy backwater island in decline, Pulau Ubin houses a vibrant and evolving community with close links to mainland Singapore, according to the results of a year-long cultural mapping project by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

The project documents the island's heritage through historical accounts passed down orally and lifestyles of its residents, both current and former. The results were released on Thursday (Apr 28).

For instance, there is a constant flow of non-residents to the island who are drawn to the kampung-centred social network through activities like work, religious activities, and fitness and leisure. NHB said this reflects that the network is likely to continue to grow and evolve.

There are also several Ubin-centric events and activities that contribute to the growth of this network, the statutory board added. For example, the annual six-day Tua Pek Kong Festival includes activities like Teochew opera, "getai" performances and a ritual by the sea. Last year, it drew about 5,000 visitors to the island.

The island currently has about 130 inhabitants.

“We found that Pulau Ubin has a community that is active and thriving, and this actually overturns several misconceptions that it is actually on the decline,” said Mr Alvin Tan, NHB’s Assistant CEO of Policy and Community. “It’s actually bolstered by this kampong-centric social network that actually inducts new members as they participate in activities on Ubin, and as they help out in their family shops and businesses.”

OCCASIONAL ISLAND LIVING

Ms Emily Chia, 26, is one such example. While she has lived on mainland Singapore since she was young, Pulau Ubin is an integral part of her childhood because she came over every weekend to visit her grandparents, who used to live on the island. Currently, her father, aunt and uncle run a bicycle rental shop on Ubin.

She said one of her favourite childhood memories involves fishing over her uncle’s kelong: “We could take a little speedboat over, and start using sticks to fish,” she said. “But I caught a snakefish, and it wasn’t edible so I couldn’t cook and eat it.”

But while she works the corporate life as a financial consultant, Emily returns to the island about three times a week to help out in the family business. She said her visits became more frequent after her father developed a knee problem last year. “I talked to him and he said he needed help. So I try to schedule my time to come over and help.”

IN TUNE WITH NATURE

The project also found that the Ubin community lives in harmony with the island’s rich biodiversity, and residents also possess a range of traditional skills and knowledge about nature.

Ubin resident Tan Leong Kit, 85, is always happy to share his knowledge of medicinal herbs with visitors. He said he has been interested in the medicinal properties of herbs since young. “I have a lot of plants around my home, and from what I know, 5 of them can treat cancer,” he said.

Formerly a pig farmer living in Bishan, he moved to Ubin in 1989 after pig farms and poultry farming were discontinued on mainland Singapore. But his farm has since closed down and he now spends his time selling drinks to visitors and tending his herbs.

He admits that he enjoys the idyllic life on the island, even if he has to live away from his wife, who returns to Ubin every weekend to help with the sales. He added that his third son also returns every weekend, and his grandchildren stay over occasionally. “I’m not lonely living alone. I’m used to it,” he said. “I’m old and I want a quiet place to live.”

- CNA/kk


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Slight hike in egg prices due to hot weather in Malaysia

Alexis Ong, My Paper AsiaOne 29 Apr 16;

THE warm weather in Malaysia has ruffled some feathers, leading to fewer eggs and a small rise in their prices at some shops in Singapore, although others are holding prices steady for now.

Prices rose by 10 cents for 10 eggs on Monday, Mr Tan Lau Huah, chairman of the Eggs Import/Export Trading Association, told The Straits Times on the same day.

One reason is that cake shops are buying more eggs to meet demand for the upcoming Hari Raya Puasa holiday on July 6. But Mr Tan also cited the hot weather in Malaysia.

"It's too hot so the chickens eat less and lay fewer eggs," he said. His association's 25 egg supplier members get 80 per cent of their eggs from Malaysia, he added.

A 68-year-old owner of an egg stall at a market in Toa Payoh Lorong 1, who wanted to be known only as Mr Liao, told Lianhe Wanbao he raised prices by one cent per egg.

This was in line with the price hike by his supplier.

He sells about 2,000 eggs a day.

Mr Liao, an egg seller of 48 years, said: "If I don't raise (prices), I'll make losses."

Ang Seng Eggs Supplier, which has been in the business for more than 30 years and supplies to restaurants and cafeterias, has also raised prices by one cent each.

The firm imports eggs from Johor Baru and Malacca, said director Sam Ang, 51.

He added: "On top of it being too hot in Malaysia, there's the problem of water shortage so costs are rising."

The chickens need water and have to be cleaned.

Egg prices at several wet market stalls and provision shops, as well as major supermarkets, appear to be stable.

An NTUC FairPrice spokesman said prices of its eggs have remained stable, "other than the typical fresh food price fluctuation".


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Malaysia: Protection of the Ulu Muda water catchment forests hinges on all to play their role

WWF 28 Apr 16;

28 Apr 2016, Petaling Jaya: WWF-Malaysia refers to recent articles which have highlighted the water crisis in the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia entitled, “Sungai Muda irrigation must stop, Kedah told”, The Malay Mail, 19 April; “Penang fears ‘super drought’, calls for drastic actions”, The Star, 16 April, 2016.

Based on the newspaper reports, the CEO of Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP), Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa, raised concerns on the adequacy of water supply due to low water flow in Sungai Muda which supplies 80% of water to Penang. While we welcome the measures proposed to ensure adequate water supply during this dry period such as water conservation measures, one of the measures proposed, which is the postponement of irrigation activities in the northern region will, in our opinion, affect rice production and impact thousands of farmers.

Water from the Sungai Muda originates from the Ulu Muda water catchment forest located in Kedah. This catchment forest provides 32% of the water supply for the irrigation needs within the Muda Agricultural Scheme, the biggest granary area in the country, our nation’s rice bowl. According to the 2013 Paddy Statistics, this area supplies close to 40% of our nation’s rice production and will contribute hugely to Malaysia’s target of achieving full self-sufficiency in paddy production by the 2020. In 2013, Malaysia imports about 34% of the country’s rice needs, costing our coffers approximately RM1.5 billion annually. Malaysia’s 2014 Agrofood Statistics records that there were 340,000 people or 55,130 farmers families who are dependent on this granary area with agriculture contributing between 60-70% of their source of income. Simply said, 40% of our rice production and the livelihood of these farmers stems from the Ulu Muda water catchment forest. If these forests were impacted, we may never achieve our vision of being self-sufficient in rice – resulting in us relying heavily on imports and costing us billions annually.

The Ulu Muda water catchment forest is also of utmost importance in ensuring water security for the northern region. Apart from supplying 80% of Penang’s water, about 96% of Kedah’s water supply comes from this catchment area. In 2005, the Muda catchment contributed RM157 million to Kedah and RM139 million to Penang in terms of annual water supply for domestic and industrial use. The economic benefits of clean and reliable supply of water, however, extend beyond the value of this amount because many industries in Penang and Kedah, such as in the Kulim High-Tech Park and the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, as well as businesses such as the hospitality industry are water intensive or water dependent. In a nutshell, Kedah’s and Penang’s economies depend on the Ulu Muda forests.

The protection of Ulu Muda forests in totality is necessary not only to sustain the water security and economy of both Penang and Kedah but also the nation’s rice production which is the staple diet of our people. This year’s drought can be blamed on the El Nino weather pattern, but this is only a precursor to future climate change, which will cause even more uncertainty in weather patterns and therefore, our water security in the future.
As such, WWF-Malaysia adds our voice to the call from the Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water for the protection of water catchment areas (Ministry seeks closer state-federal ties as water crisis looms, The Malay Mail 21 April, 2016). Notwithstanding the vital role the Kedah state government plays in the protection of this catchment area, parties which derive benefits from the protection of Ulu Muda such as the Penang State Government and the Federal Government must also play their part in this call for protection.

While it is noted that the downstream reaches of Sungai Muda flows naturally through Penang, the source of this river is undeniably the water catchment forest of Ulu Muda, located in Kedah. There are costs, including opportunity costs, associated with the protection of the catchment forest which needs to be offset through an enabling environment and fair financial mechanisms.

Therefore, we urge all parties to recognise the vital role that Ulu Muda forests play not just in contributing to water security in the northern region but to economic growth and food security of the nation. In line with the 11th Malaysia Plan we call on the Federal government to assist the state governments to valuing the total economic contribution of the Ulu Muda forests to Penang’s, Kedah’s and the wider national economy as well as to food security. In conducting this valuation, other ecosystem services such as soil protection and flood mitigation also needs to be taken into account. Most importantly the right enabling environment and workable sustainable financing mechanisms need to be identified and implemented to ensure that the state government are able to offset potential revenue loss from conserving the forests as water catchment forests. As the nation shifts towards green growth, all parties – the state and federal governments - need to work together in partnership to find solutions to secure the protection of the Ulu Muda forests and the services it provides for the benefit of the nation.

Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma
Executive Director/CEO
WWF-Malaysia


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Malaysia: Fighting the hot spell and dry taps

MAZWIN NIK ANIS The Star 29 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: The military will be mobilised to send treated water to areas where the taps have run dry, says Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

At the same time, dams deemed critical will be pumped with water sourced from nearby rivers and lakes, and from underground.

These are the immediate measures decided on by the central disaster committee chaired by Dr Ahmad Zahid to ease the water shortage problem brought on by the prolonged hot spell.

The Cabinet, which met on Wednesday, had directed the committee to look for solutions.

Dr Ahmad Zahid said the use of military facilities and equipment to send water to affected areas in Chini, Pahang and Dengkil, Selangor began three days ago.

The same will be done for other affected areas.

The committee is also in the midst of arranging for dams to be filled up. Seven dams at highly critical levels get priority.

The water reserve at Timah Tasoh dam in Perlis is only at 13.2% currently; Bukit Merah in Perak is at 13.66% and Gemencheh in Negri Sembilan is at 19.97%.

Four dams in Johor are also badly affected – Lebam (26.53%), Congok (32.28%), Layang (18.46%) and Labong (10%).

There are 41 dams in peninsular Malaysia.

On whether the Bukit Merah Dam area would be declared a disaster zone, Dr Ahmad Zahid said the matter had legal and financial implications.

“There will be some implications, especially when there is compensation to be paid out.

“So for the time being, we will look at how we can help improve the water level at the dam and ensure the people there get sufficient water supply for consumption and agriculture,” he said.

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir had said that there was a possibility the Bukit Merah Dam area would be declared a disaster zone as the water at the dam was at a critical level.

No 'disaster area' status for Bukit Merah and Timah Tasoh
HASHINI KAVISHTRI KANNAN New Straits Times 28 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: The government has decided not declare Bukit Merah, Perak and Timah Tasoh, Perlis as disaster areas after considering the financial and legal aspects.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said there were great implications involved if the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) were to declare those areas as disaster areas.

"We have taken into consideration the state governments' request for the declaration; however, we must study the matter in detail.

"If the states are declared as disaster areas, the government must pay compensation to farmers; these were among other details that must be considered", he said after chairing the high-level Cabinet Committee on Disasters today.

However, he said, the meeting had suggested for the installation of pipes to Tasik Merah, deepening of Tasik Merah and others to mitigate the water shortage problem.

Zahid said seven out of 41 dams in the country were at critical level.

The dams are Bukit Merah, Timah Tasoh, Gemencheh, Lebam, Congok, Layang and Labong.


200 heat-related cases this year
LOH FOON FONG The Star 29 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Two hundred cases of heat-related illness had been reported in government health facilities nationwide, the Health Ministry reported.

Of the number, two people have died so far this year, said Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

He said that 52 cases (26%) were due to heat cramps, 126 due to heat exhaustion (63%) and 22 were due to heat stroke (11%).

“The ministry will continue to monitor heat-related illness nationwide,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature increases suddenly and it fails to sweat. The person’s temperature will increase to 41°C within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke could lead to death or permanent disability if the condition is not controlled.

The first death involved a 23-year-old police cadet during a training exercise in Segamat, Johor.

The latest involved another trainee, also aged 23, who was undergoing the Basic Course for Young Army Volunteers at a polytechnic in Jitra, Kedah, on April 26.

There were also six cases of heat cramps reported involving trainees at the same course. All received outpatient treatment.


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Malaysia: A dropped match – and 60 firemen battle for four weeks

The Star 29 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: A single match is dropped in a peat soil forest reserve. And 60 firemen have to spend four weeks battling to put out the blaze.

The Fire and Rescue Department operation in the South Kuala Langat forest reserve, where the biggest fire in Peninsular Malaysia is currently being put out, is unfortunately just one of 142 fires the department had to respond to yesterday, mostly as a result of open burning.

Most cases were sparked by farmers using the dry season to clear their land.

The hot weather and lack of rain easily turn small open burning cases into uncontrollable infernos.

Although firemen say it is all part of their job, these are all preventable fires caused by irresponsible people.

Responding to these also takes time and manpower away from the department, which would rather focus on fire and rescue operations that endanger human lives.

“Here, the only victims are us and the environment,” said the department’s deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid.

Open burning cases have spiked in the country since the heatwave began in February. This month alone, firemen responded to 6,831 open burning cases, with Selangor and Johor accounting for the highest number.

There were 7,887 cases reported in March and 2,785 cases in February.

Three hotspots were recorded in the country yesterday, all in the coastal areas of Pahang.

Yet firemen said more fires were occurring inland, in peat soil and farm lands, suggesting that these fires were caused by humans.

Terengganu had the most number of fires as a result of open burning, with 32 cases.

The biggest fire there was in Kerteh, Kemaman, where 22ha of peat soil land caught fire due to land clearing.

Other peat soil fires in Dungun and Bukit Layat Setiu were also caused by open burning.

Kelantan reported 27 bush and forest fires due to open burning, while Selangor reported 21.

A total of 363 firemen and 44 fire trucks were deployed to put out these fires yesterday.

These fires have been touted as the cause of the haze around Peninsular Malaysia’s central region.


Cooler days are here at last

JOASH EE DE SILVA The Star 29 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Many Malaysians can breathe a sigh of relief. The worst of the heatwave is over and they can expect cool and clear weather in the coming weeks.

Malaysian Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said that as of Wednesday, there were only three hotspots in the country – all along the coast of Pahang.

“There are some hotspots at and around Kuala Rompin and Pekan as the east coast has been a bit dry due to little or no rain,” she said.

“In the west coast, however, it has rained regularly.”

Che Gayah added that the situation has improved around the country because the rain has put out fires in recent days, and there has been a sharp drop in the number of hotspots in the peninsula from the 31 on April 20.

She pointed out that the haze over some places in the country was mostly from local sources such as forest fires, smoke from vehicles and factories.

Che Gayah said that in the coming few days, there was not likely to be any trans-boundary haze as the wind was still not blowing from Sumatra.

“As of now, parts of Sumatra have received significant rainfall.

“A few hotspots were detected but the smoke will not blow into our country.

On the heatwave, she said that only Kuala Krai recorded a heatwave, whereas in other areas, the inter-monsoon rains have lowered the temperatures.

According to the department, a “heatwave” is declared when the temperature of an area is over 35°C for five days in a row, or over 37°C for three days in a row.

She said Malaysia normally experienced high daily temperatures in March and early April. With the El Nino phenomenon, the temperature could increase by between 0.5°C and 3°C from the normal values.

“The heatwave will gradually weaken till it diminishes in May,” she said.


Men under fire in the heat
NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 29 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: You could call them the men facing the heat. Fireman battling peat fires, caused by open burning in many parts of the peninsula, are the ones suffering the most from these irresponsible acts.

Sg Pinang fire station chief Zaidi Aatan, whose men have just wrapped up a 10-day round-the-clock firefight at an illegal dump in Kapar, Klang, knows the suffering of his men.

For more than a week, officers were forced to work in conditions where toxic fumes were spewing from burning rubbish stretching the length and size of eight football fields.

Though none had reported breathing difficulties, Zaidi said he and his men had developed skin rashes.

“Even after I bathe, my wife would tell me that I still smell of rubbish. This is how it is in our job,” he sighed.

In South Kuala Langat forest reserve, Selangor Fire and Rescue Department Zone 5 chief Abu Bakar Abu Kadir said he had not returned home since the fires began on March 31.

“We work in shifts but we have to be here every day to douse peat soil fire. With the help of the rain, we may be able to put everything out by next week,” he said.

The fires, which has razed the forest reserve the size of 43 football fields, was started by farmers who wanted to clear land illegally for their plantations.

Officers here have managed to halve the size of the fire, but said there were still 10.5ha of land still burning.

Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid was upset at the people who continued to be irresponsible.

“I have been here for 30 years and we have always done awareness campaigns and told people not burn rubbish or their farms during the dry season. But they still do it.

“It’s really the attitude of the people. They want to clear their farms or get rid of rubbish in the easiest and cheapest way. So they do open burning.

“And when it goes out of control, it becomes our job to stop it,” he said. “If they really must conduct open burning, they should do it near a water source so they can put out the fire if it becomes too big.”

Soiman said with the prolonged dry weather, officers might find themselves stretched thin as they must also attend to fires in buildings, residential areas and other rescue cases.

He said priority had to be given to cases where human lives were in danger.

“However, ignoring uncontrolled open burning cases may lead to larger fires that pollute more,” he said

Yesterday, Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaid Tuanku Jaafar said he was considering introducing new laws that would allow authorities the power to confiscate land from owners who carried out open burning.

Soiman said it remained to be seen if such new laws would help.


Firemen at higher risk of ill health
NOEL FOO The Star 29 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Spending 10 to 11 hours a day at burning peat swamps and forest reserves to put out fires exposes the firemen to various health risks, say medical experts.

Although not many medical studies were conducted specifically on the profession, a doctor said there could be higher incidences of cancer among older firemen.

“Because of the burning of different materials, they can be exposed to different kinds of carcinogens,” Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia vice-president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said.

Dr Raj said that while firemen had breathing apparatus, there were some who put their health at risk by smoking cigarettes.

“With the heatwave going on right now, they are also at risk of heat stroke and burns from the fire,” he said.

Dr Raj added that these would put a strain on their bodies, besides their stress levels.

With fires breaking out across the country every day for the past month, largely because of the hot weather, the firefighters have had little choice but to face these dangers head-on.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Ashok Zachariah Philip admitted that he had not worked on cases involving firemen, but said their protective equipment helped mitigate immediate risks.

“As long as firemen use the breathing apparatus provided, they should not get smoke inhalation problems.

“Of course, they are vulnerable to heat exhaustion and danger from fire,” he added.

Malaysia warns of continuing drought as Malacca sounds water shortage alarm
Today Online 28 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia has recorded its second death from heatstroke, as the government warned people to brace themselves for less rain and more haze “in the coming months”.

At the same time, Malacca became the latest state to be severely affected by the drought, with the state chief minister saying that the water supply would not last until September if the hot weather persists.

The latest heatstroke fatality was Wan Mohd Aliff Faisal Wan Ismedi, 23, a trainee undergoing a basic course for young volunteer servicemen at a polytechnic in Jitra, Kedah.

Malaysia, which is suffering from a punishing heatwave which has caused rivers and dams to dry up, recorded its first death from heatstroke last month when a police trainee constable died in Segamat, Johor.

Health ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said Wan Mohd Aliff died on Tuesday (April 26).

As of Wednesday, the country recorded 200 cases of heatstroke. Of the total, 126 were related to heat exhaustion, 52 people suffered heat cramps and 22 people got heatstroke.

The Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Ministry on Thursday warned citizens to brace themselves for hazy weather soon, just days after the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry forecast the hot weather would persist until September.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar said winds were expected to blow the haze from Indonesia to Malaysia.

“The haze situation this year is potentially worse as Malaysia is already facing moderate haze due to local fires, and the coming monsoon winds will only bring in more haze from Indonesia,” he said.
Mr Wan Junaidi said although the El Nino phenomenon was expected to last until June, the south-west monsoon would prolong the hot and dry spell.

He also expressed concern over depleting water reserves at dams nationwide. Seven dams — Timah Tasoh (Perlis), Beris, Padang Saga, Muda (Kedah), Bukit Merah (Perak), Bukit Kwong (Kelantan) and Labong (Johor) — recorded water levels below 50 per cent.

“The government has decided to carry out cloud seeding operations daily. When water levels at rivers and lakes are low, it could lead to pollution,” Mr Wan Junaidi said. “The Cabinet has ordered ministries to take precautionary measures.”

He said the Department of Environment had detected 1,460 cases of open burning, between Jan 1 and Monday.

There are six areas where forest and peat fires continue to burn. They include Beris and Lalang mukim in Bachok, Kelantan; Kuala Langat Forest Reserve, Gunung Arong, Mersing in Johor; Kampung Durian Guling, Marang in Terengganu; Kampung Batu 7, Dungun in Terengganu; and an oil palm plantation in Felda Bukit Kemadol, Kuala Langat in Selangor.

“I have directed the department to take action on offenders.”

He also proposed the government take over land on which fires were allowed to burn unchecked.

“Existing laws are unable to prevent open burning ... so we want firmer action. In Sarawak, we call it ‘re-enter the land’ where the land is handed over to the government.

Meanwhile, Malacca Chief Minister Idris Haron said that water supply in his state cannot last until September if the hot weather persists until then.

He urged the people of Malacca to take steps to use water prudently now to “extend the lifespan” of the water supply in the state.

“We may have to take alternative steps such as building tube wells but what is most important is that we all must conserve water from now. This requires the cooperation of all, other than that, we can only pray,” he told a press conference after chairing the Malacca State Executive Council meeting in Petaling Jaya on Wednesday.

Last week, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Wilfred Madius Tangau was reported to have said Malaysia is expected to face water supply problems until September as a result of the current hot weather which is expected to last until then.

According to the Melaka Water Supervisory Board today, the water level at the Durian Tunggal Dam in Alor Gajah was at 40.6 per cent, the Jus Dam in Jasin (71 per cent) and the Asahan Dam in Jasin (83.6 per cent).

Mr Idris said as much as 200 million gallons of water a day was being pumped from the Jus Dam to the Durian Tunggal Dam to stabilise the water supply which was almost at a critical level.

The heatwave across the Causeway had also prompted Singapore’s Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli to speak about his “personal worry” a few days ago that the extreme weather patterns due to climate change would pose new challenges to Singapore’s water sustainability.

This comes as water level in Linggiu Reservoir in Johor rapidly falling to historic lows. As of April 22, the reservoir water level was at 35 per cent — down from 36.9 per cent about 1.5 weeks ago. AGENCIES


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Thailand faces longest heatwave in 65 years

The Star 28 Apr 16;

According to the Thai Meteorological Department, the average temperature nationwide has surpassed alert levels and the heatwave is expected to continue, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

In April, the average temperature in many regions rose above 40 degrees Celsius and even up to 44.3 degrees Celsius, VNA reported.

Authorities also reminded people of the risk of drowning as children flock to beaches, ponds and lakes to swim amidst the hot weather.

Since the beginning of this month, as many as 135 children in Thailand have drowned. - Bernama


Heatwave claims 21 lives, as health official urges caution
THE NATION 29 Apr 16;

EXTREME SUMMER heat has claimed the lives of as many as 21 people this year, officials said yesterday.

Dr Amnuay Kajina, director of the Department of Communicable Disease Control, said Thailand continued to be hit by a heatwave affecting many parts of the country.

"People must take extra caution against illnesses caused by the sweltering heat,'' he said.

He said the mercury in some areas might rise above 40 degrees Celsius, adding that if people's bodies cannot release heat continuously, they could fall ill and die from heat stroke.

He said heat stroke was caused when people's bodies could not adjust to or release excess heat. The symptoms include headaches, blackouts, convulsions, shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat and shock. "Without immediate treatment, heat stroke can lead to death,'' Amnuay said.

He said 56 people had died as a result of the heatwave last year, most of whom were men and 33 per cent were labourers. Another 33 per cent died while doing activities or work in the sun.

The department reported that from March 1 to April 33 this year, the heatwave claimed 21 lives, comprising 20 men and one woman. The average age of people killed was 51, while victims ranged from 29 to 72. Thirteen died outside of their residences, two died in vehicles, one in a temple and five in houses.

Heat stroke risk

Those who are at risk of heat stroke include people who work outdoors or do activities in the sun such as exercising, children under five and the elderly, people who suffer from high blood pressure, obese people, people who are sleep-deprived, and alcoholics.

Amnuay suggested that people wear light-coloured clothes that release the heat, stay indoors with good ventilation, refrain from extended outdoor activities, wear sunglasses and hats, drink more water than usual, and avoid alcohol. He also cautioned against leaving pets, children and the elderly in cars and urged people to exercise in the early morning or evening when the sun is not too harsh.

Anyone who is affected by heat stroke can call 1669 for assistance or 1422 for more information.

Meanwhile, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) said power consumption peaked for the sixth time this year with consumption reaching 29,403 megawatts. It was the fourth consecutive power-peak day. The average temperature across Thailand was 37.8 degrees yesterday.

Last year, power consumption peaked at 27,345MW on June 11 and the average temperature was 36.7 degrees.

Egat governor Sunchai Kamnoonset said power consumption peaked because of increased usage by the service and industrial sectors. Also there has been more consumption at residences as students stay home during the long summer vacation.


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In Asia, govts struggle to deal with a worsening water crisis

BRAHMA CHELLANEY Today Online 29 Apr 16;

Asia’s water woes are worsening. Already the world’s driest continent in per capita terms, Asia now faces a severe drought that has parched a vast region extending from southern Vietnam to central India. This has exacerbated political tensions, because it has highlighted the impact of China’s dam-building policy on the environment and on water flows to the dozen countries located downstream.

Today’s drought in parts of South-east and South Asia is the worst in decades. Among the hardest hit areas are Vietnam’s Mekong Delta (a rice bowl of Asia) and central highlands; 27 of Thailand’s 76 provinces; parts of Cambodia; Myanmar’s largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay; and areas of India that are home to more than a quarter of the country’s massive population.

Droughts may not knock down buildings, but they carry high social and economic costs. Millions of Asians now confront severe water shortages, and some have been forced to relocate. Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia have had to scale back traditional water festivals marking their New Year. The High Court of Bombay moved the world’s biggest and wealthiest cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League, out of the state of Maharashtra. In one Maharashtra county, the local authorities, fearing violence, temporarily banned gatherings of more than five people around water storage and supply facilities.

MOUNTING LOSSES IN RICE-PRODUCING COUNTRIES

Meanwhile, the mounting drought-related losses in some of the world’s top rice-producing countries — Thailand, Vietnam and India — threaten to roil the world’s already tight rice market. Barely 7 per cent of global rice output is traded internationally, because much of it is consumed where it is produced: In Asia.

Rice losses have been particularly significant in Thailand and Vietnam, which account for half of all rice exports and almost three-quarters of this decade’s projected export growth. Around 230,000ha of paddy rice cultivation has been destroyed just in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, where depleted river flows have led to saltwater intrusion from the South China Sea, rendering nearly 10 per cent of the rice farms potentially infertile.

This drought may be unprecedented, but it is not an anomaly. On the contrary, environmental challenges in Asia, such as ecosystem degradation, groundwater depletion, the contamination of water resources, the El Nino tropical weather pattern and the effects of global warming are causing droughts to become increasingly frequent and increasingly severe.

Even without droughts, Asia would be facing formidable water constraints. The annual amount of available fresh water per capita in the region (2,816 cubic metres) is already less than half the global average (6,079 cubic metres). As the region pursues rapid economic development, characterised by massive increases in resource consumption and serious environmental damage, its water constraints are tightening further. The challenge is compounded by Asians’ changing dietary preferences, particularly higher consumption of meat, the production of which is notoriously water-intensive.

ADDING SUPPLY INSTEAD OF MANAGING WATER

While Asia’s resource-hungry economies can secure fossil fuels and mineral ores from distant lands, they cannot import water, which is prohibitively expensive to transport. So they have been overexploiting local resources instead, a practice that has spurred an environmental crisis, advancing regional climate change and intensifying natural disasters such as droughts.

As a result, Asia, which accounts for 72 per cent of the world’s total irrigated acreage, now faces a dilemma: It must grow enough food to meet rising demand, while reducing the amount of water that goes toward irrigation. Unless Asia resolves it, economic development will be at risk, with major consequences for the global economy.

Yet the continent’s water crisis is only worsening. According to a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, there is a “high risk” that Asia’s water stress could worsen to water scarcity by 2050. Water-sharing disputes between countries or provinces are becoming increasingly frequent because of the proliferation of dam projects that can adversely affect downstream flows. Such an approach represents a continuing preference for supply-side approaches over smart water management.

CHINA THE MAIN CULPRIT

The main culprit in this regard is China, which has heavily dammed the Mekong, South-east Asia’s lifeline. In the current lean season, which will last until the monsoon rains arrive in June, the lower Mekong is, according to a recent United Nations report, running at “its lowest level since records began nearly 100 years ago.”

China is now trying to play saviour, by releasing an unspecified quantity of water from one of its six upstream mega-dams to “accommodate the concerns” of drought-stricken countries. China’s rulers have touted the move as underscoring the effectiveness of upstream “water facilities” in addressing droughts and containing floods.

Of course, in reality, all of this simply highlights the newfound reliance of downriver countries on Chinese goodwill, a dependence that is set to deepen as China builds 14 more dams on the Mekong.

The environmental impact of these projects is sure to exacerbate the ecological challenges, including drought, Asia already faces.

This competitive approach is putting Asia on a dangerous path, which can lead only to more environmental degradation, slower economic development, and even water wars. It is time to change course and embark on the path of rules-based cooperation, based on water-sharing accords, the free flow of hydrological data and dispute-settlement mechanisms.

Asian countries must work together to ensure greater efficiency in water consumption, increase the use of recycled and desalinated water, and promote innovative solutions that advance conservation and adaptation efforts. To this end, governments must phase out state subsidies that have encouraged profligate water use, such as in agriculture, and focus on building new market mechanisms and effective public-private partnerships.

None of this will be possible without China’s cooperation. Indeed, if China does not abandon its current approach — from its “water grab” in the Mekong and other international rivers to its “territorial grab” in the South China Sea — the prospects of a rules-based order in Asia could perish forever. PROJECT SYNDICATE


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut, Water: Asia’s New Battleground, and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.


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Workers face 'epidemic of heat-related injuries' due to climate change

Major UN report warns heat stress suffered by factory and field workers will devastate health and reduce productivity
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 28 Apr 16;

Workers in fields and factories face an epidemic of heat-related injuries that will devastate their health, income and productivity as climate change takes hold, a major UN report has warned.

Productivity losses alone could rise above $2tn by 2030, as outdoor employees in many regions slow their pace, take longer breaks and shift their work to cooler dusk and dawn hours.

The effects of heat stress brought on by a warming world are already evident among the 4 billion people who live in the tropics and subtropics, says the report, Climate Change and Labour, which was jointly produced by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), UN Development Programme and the World Health Organisation.

In west Africa, the number of very hot days each year has already doubled since the 1960s, with an increase of around 10 sultry days each decade.

Matthew McKinnon, the manager of the UN’s climate vulnerable support forum, told the Guardian that increased incidence of heat stroke was only the most dramatic evidence of the problem he encountered on a recent trip to Ghana.

He said: “Teachers were complaining that it was too hot to teach children in schoolrooms which had no air conditioning. The children were also exhausted. We had truck drivers who were complaining that the rates of tyre bursts was increasing a lot because of the heat. Farmers too were worried that they had to spend too much time in open fields in the hot season.”

Around 2% of daylight hours are predicted to be shaved off the working day in west Africa, south Asia, and 10 regions in Asia, Africa and Latin America by 2030, potentially creating an epidemic of heat-related injuries.

“If temperatures climb beyond 2C, it would really be a problem on that scale in the tropics and sub-tropics,” McKinnon said.

More than half of the workforce in many middle- and low-income countries is already exposed to heat hazards, which also affect workers in factories that have inadequate air conditioning and ventilation systems. This is in turn can make normal work impossible.

“When heat is at a maximum threshold and it continues to get hotter, there are limitations to what people can do,” McKinnon said.

If ambient temperatures rise above the body’s median 37C, a person can only continue working by expelling heat through sweat evaporation. Where high humidity or clothing requirements prevent this, the only way to avoid dehydration and ultimately, clinical heatstroke is through reducing the work rate, resting and drinking as much water as possible.

Heat-related health breakdowns would have a gender dimension, hitting men who traditionally slog through heavy-lifting jobs, and pregnant women who are forced to work for economic reasons, especially in rural areas.

The worst-affected areas in the century ahead will likely include countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Burkina Faso which had already lost 2-3% of their available daylight work hours by the mid-1990s due to heat extremes.

Even if the Paris agreement succeeds in limiting global warming to 2C, 10-15% of daylight work hours will be lost in vulnerable countries by the century’s end, says the study which bases its estimates on theUN climate science panel’s latest findings.

“Limiting warming to 1.5Cas enshrined in the UNFCCC Paris agreement would still result in a substantial escalation of risks but increases the viability of adaptation measures and contains the worst impacts in health, economic and social terms,” the report says.

The paper calls for low-cost measures such as guaranteed access to drinking water in workplaces, frequent rest breaks, management of output targets, and a protection of employee’s incomes and conditions.

However, more labour disputes to protect vulnerable workers - and apply the ILO’s guidelines on climate change – are all but inevitable as the century advances, according to the ILO.

Moustapha Kamal Gueye, an ILO spokesman, said: “Climate change is going to be a major issue for unions in the years ahead. It is a significant problem already and workers and unions are far ahead of governments and employers when it comes to putting on pressure about the urgency to take action.”


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Malaysia proposes to amend environment act to curb haze from forest fires

Reuters 27 Apr 16;

Malaysia is proposing to amend an act to allow the government to seize control of land where big fires are discovered, as part of its long-term efforts to curb haze from slash-and-burn forest clearing techniques usually linked to palm oil plantations.

The palm oil sector in top producers Indonesia and Malaysia has been facing criticism for deforestation and its land-clearing methods that send vast plumes of smoke across Southeast Asia every year. Indonesia has already taken measures to reduce the industry's environmental impact, with the latest being a moratorium on new palm oil concessions.

Malaysia is also set to get tough on forest fires with its proposal to amend the country's Environmental Protection Act, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the country's natural resources and environment minister, said on Wednesday.

Under the amendment, "it will not matter if the land is owned by smallholders or plantation giants, as long as there is a substantial fire the government will take control of the land," Wan Junaidi said at a press conference.

The amendment, however, is not likely to be made in time to curb fires this year, Wan Junaidi added, without providing any further details on it.

"The haze situation this year is potentially worse as Malaysia is already facing moderate haze due to local fires, and the coming monsoon winds will only bring in more haze from Indonesia," he said.

Malaysia and Indonesia produce about 90 percent of global palm oil, used in everything from cooking oil and soaps to chocolate and cosmetics.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan, writing by Emily Chow; Editing by Himani Sarkar)


Hurt nature and risk losing land
MAZWIN NIK ANIS The Star 28 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (pic) is looking at the possibility of introducing new laws that give the authorities the power to confiscate land whose owners carry out open burning or other activities detrimental to the environment on the land.

Dr Wan Junaidi has yet to discuss the matter with his ministry’s officers, but said he believed that there must be laws that were deterrent enough to stop people from endangering lives and the environment.

“This is an idea that I have. I need to discuss this with the ministry’s officers and the legal department. I also need to get input from the Attorney-General to see if this is something that can be done in Malaysia,” he told reporters after attending the Cabinet meeting.

Dr Wan Junaidi said he would gather officials around the discussion table to look into this idea and would submit a proposal paper to the Cabinet if this could be done.

He said there must a way to stop people from carrying out open burning on their land or get them to better care for their property so that it would not contribute to pollution and haze.

“We face the same problem every year and this has to stop,” he added.

He said a hefty fine was not deterrent enough for some as companies making millions would not think twice about paying a RM500,000 fine for causing fire to the land, pollution and indiscriminate waste dumping.

This year, three fire incidents – in Kuala Baram mangrove area in Miri, peat swamp forest reserves in Klias and Keningau, Sabah, and Kuala Langat forest reserve in Selangor – caused haze.

Between January and April 25, 1,460 cases of open burning were detected at forest reserves, mangrove areas, construction sites, landfills as well as agriculture and industrial plots.

From 2014 till April, authorities collected compounds amounting to RM1.213mil just from those who committed open burning.


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Malaysia: Weather expected to return to normal by end of May

BERNAMA New Straits Times 27 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The hot weather due to the El Nino phenomenon which is currently sweeping the country is expected to return to normal by the end of May, according to the Malaysian Meteorological Department’s National Geophysics and Weather Operations Centre meteorologist Khairul Najib Ibrahim.

He said this was following the damp weather conditions with rain and thunderstorms occurring in the afternoon in most areas of the country, which is expected to gradually reduce the effects of the phenomenon.

“This condition (wet weather) involves a number of areas including the West coast of the peninsula, the western and central parts of Sarawak, and several divisions in Sabah.

“This comes as the country is undergoing a transitional monsoon phase where the prevailing winds are usually weak and bring rain with thunderstorms in the late evenings, and sometimes extends until early next morning, especially on the West coast of the peninsula,” he said when contacted by Bernama here today.

El Nino occurs when the water surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean rises considerably higher than average, leading to changes in air circulation patterns.

The phenomenon which has lasted since February, has also resulted in a number of states experiencing water supply problems as the water levels in several major dams have decreased.

However, Khairul Najib said the heat wave status for Peninsular Malaysia as of yesterday (26 April) still showed relatively high temperatures recorded in the northern and central regions of the Peninsula, as well as the interiors of Sabah and Sarawak.

“Maximum temperaturse of between 35 and 37 degrees Celsius was reported to have occurred in several areas including Gua Musang in Kelantan, Jerantut in Pahang, Jempol in Negeri Sembilan, as well as Mersing and Segamat in Johor.

“The temperatures in Sabah and Sarawak are still at normal levels, except in a few areas, namely Kota Marudu, Tongod and Beluran in Sabah, and Limbang in Sarawak,” he said.

Meanwhile, the hot and dry weather also caused a decline in water levels involving several dams in Johor, namely Sungai Lebam in Kota Tinggi, Congok and Mersing and Sungai Layang Masai in Johor Baharu.

National Water Services Commission (SPAN) Resource Management and Engineering deputy director Khithob Ahmad said the drop in water levels was caused by the prolonged hot weather in the country.

“Rain only occurs in several areas in Johor, but rarely in catchment areas.

“Accordingly, SPAN will continue monitoring with water supply operators in the country to ensure there is sufficient water supply. We will also try to find solutions to overcome the water supply problem during the dry season,” he said.

However, he said in the event of water shortage, SPAN will regulate the water supply in the affected areas.


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Malaysia: Hot weather keeps firemen busy

NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 28 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The hot weather sparked an overwhelming majority of fires, keeping firemen busy throughout the country.

Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid said that of the 124 fires reported across Malaysia yesterday, 108 were caused by the searing El Nino phenomenon.

He said firemen responded to as many as 93 bush fires and battled blazes in 18 forests yesterday, while also being called in to douse 15 house fires and three open-burning cases.

However, cases have halved from the 276 fires that were ignited by the heatwave during equinox day on March 21, he said.

Terengganu, which recorded a temperature of 33°C yesterday, had the most number of bush fires with 26 cases. Pahang and Kelantan reported 15 and 11 cases respectively.

There were seven forest fires in Kelantan yesterday, said Soiman, adding that those fires have already been put out.

Selangor recorded four forest fires, the biggest of which is occurring in the South Kuala Langat forest reserve where about 13.8ha of peat soil are burning.

Sabah reported four forest fires.

Despite the hot weather being a crucial factor in the many number of fires in nature, Soiman believed that people had a hand in most of the cases, too.

“Fires don’t automatically happen. It’s due to humans, too, maybe someone threw a cigarette butt or was doing open burning.

“A lot of things can cause fires, especially now because of the weather.

“If anyone sees a fire, please alert us immediately so we can take quick action. Or else, a small fire could spread and become a big problem,” he said.

The Air Pollutant Index readings as at 5pm yesterday showed good-to-moderate air quality nationwide, with the exception of Kuala Lumpur, which dipped to unhealthy levels with a reading of 113.


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