Best of our wild blogs: 26 Nov 14



November walks at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park
from Sisters' Island Marine Park

Park toa
from The annotated budak


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Singapore presses Malaysia on Johor Strait reclamation projects

Channel NewsAsia 25 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan emphasised Singapore's concerns over Malaysia's land reclamation projects in the Straits of Johor, during the 27th Annual Exchange of Visits between the environment ministries of Malaysia and Singapore.

Dr Balakishnan led a delegation to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday (Nov 25) and met with Malaysia's Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Dr. James Dawos Mamit in Kuala Lumpur.

At the meeting, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated Singapore's request for such reclamation works to be suspended until Singapore has received and studied all the relevant information from Malaysia, including the Environmental Impact Assessments, and established that there would be no transboundary impact on Singapore from these projects.

Dr Balakrishnan stressed that both Singapore and Malaysia are obliged under international law, in particular, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to undertake and share Environmental Impact Assessments on all works that could have transboundary impact, before starting work.

He said Singapore looked forward to Malaysia's expeditious reply to requests on this issue.

Other issues discussed include the control of vehicular emissions, the joint monitoring of water quality in the Straits of Johor, and the emergency response plans for chemical spills at the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link and at the East Johor Strait.

- CNA/hx

Vivian Balakrishnan restates Singapore's concerns over Johor Strait land reclamation projects during KL visit
Straits Times 25 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE - Singapore on Tuesday restated its concerns to Malaysia over land reclamation projects in the Strait of Johor , given their close proximity to Singapore.

It has also reiterated a request that works be suspended until Singapore received and studied all relevant information from Malaysia, including Environmental Impact Assessments, and has established there would be no transboundary impact on Singapore from the projects.

Singapore's position was stated by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan during a visit to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday for the annual exchange of visits between the Environment ministries of the two countries.

Malaysian news reports earlier this year said that a China property developer and a Johor government company were behind a reclamation project to create a 2,000ha island for luxury homes. A project map showed part of the man-made island under the Second Link, which connects Tuas in Singapore to Johor.

Singapore has previously expressed concern to Malaysia about the project and its possible impact on Singapore and the Strait.

A Environment and Water Resources Ministry statement on Tuesday on Dr Balakrishnan's visit said he stressed that both Singapore and Malaysia are obliged under international law - in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - to undertake and share Environmental Impact Assessments on all works that could have transboundary impact, prior to the commencement of such works.

It added that "he noted that Singapore looked forward to Malaysia's expeditious reply to Singapore's requests on this issue".

At the Kuala Lumpur meeting on Tuesday, Dr Balakrishnan and Malaysian Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister James Dawos Mamit reviewed discussions and exchanges that were held on Monday by a meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Committee on the Environment.

Those issues included the control of vehicular emissions, joint monitoring of water quality in the Strait of Johor, the emergency response plans for chemical spills at the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link and at the East Johor Strait, as well as Malaysia's land reclamation projects in the Strait of Johor.

Minister Reiterates Singapore's Concern Over Land Reclaimation Projects In Straits Of Johor
Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah Bernama 25 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE, Nov 25 (Bernama) -- Singapore's Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan raised his country's concerns over Malaysia's land reclamation projects in the Straits of Johor, reported Channel NewsAsia (CNA).

The local television reported that the minister emphasized his concern during the 27th Annual Exchange of Visits between the environment ministries of Malaysia and Singapore.

CNA said Dr Balakishnan led a delegation to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday (Nov 25) and met Malaysia's Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Dr James Dawos Mamit in Kuala Lumpur.

At the meeting, CNA reported Dr Balakrishnan reiterated Singapore's request for such reclamation works to be suspended until Singapore has received and studied all the relevant information from Malaysia, including the Environmental Impact Assessments, and established that there would be no transboundary impact on Singapore from these projects.

The report said Dr Balakrishnan stressed that both Singapore and Malaysia were obliged under international law, in particular, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to undertake and share Environmental Impact Assessments on all works that could have transboundary impact, before starting work.

The local television reported that the minister said Singapore looked forward to Malaysia's expeditious reply to requests on the issue.

-- BERNAMA


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PUB invites proposals to study flood risks

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Nov 14;

Singapore is looking far ahead to identify the risks of coastal and inland flooding here due to climate change.

National water agency PUB has invited companies to submit proposals to study the extent and impact of such risks for almost half of the island, up to the year 2100.

The area involved comprises 12 catchment areas which make up 46 per cent of Singapore's mainland area, and includes the Bedok, Siglap, Kranji, Joo Chiat and Marina East catchment areas.

A catchment area is a basin, with the boundaries being its highest geographical points. All the water that falls in the basin drains to its lowest point.

A PUB spokesman said the 12 catchment areas were chosen because they are in older parts of Singapore where the ground levels of buildings and developments are generally lower, or they are highly urbanised, or both.

PUB chief sustainability officer Tan Nguan Sen said: "As the waterways in some of these catchments eventually flow to the sea, a sea-level rise or storm surge can have an impact on the flood risks in these areas."

Earlier last year, the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a landmark report that the sea level could rise by almost 1m by 2100 if the most aggressive climate change scenario came to pass.

The global mean sea level between 1986 and 2005 was used as the reference point.

Much of Singapore lies within 15m above sea level, and about a third is less than 5m above the water, the National Climate Change Secretariat said.

To address this, in 2011, the Government raised the minimum reclamation level of new projects by 1m, to 2.25m above the highest recorded tide level.

The PUB study will take into account the IPCC's methodologies and guidelines, its climate projections, and initial findings of the Government's ongoing Second National Climate Change Study.

The contractor is expected to generate flood maps "for extreme rainfall and sea-level rise scenarios due to climate change for the 2030s, 2050s and 2080s, taking into account future land use and stipulated drainage networks".

PUB will also provide details of proposed adaptation measures, such as the widening of drains, tidal gates and pumping systems to be modelled by the contractor.

The agency wants the risks of inundation across the catchments to be specified "in terms of locations, total area affected and flood depth". It added: "This will include providing a list of infrastructure, developments and critical installations that will be affected in a flood area."

The study is expected to start next month and be completed within a year.

Mr Kevin Kho, 53, an engineer with more than 20 years' experience, said the study is timely as the impact of sea-level rises on flooding has been well documented in other parts of the world.

"The problem is a mega one and a real one, and that's why PUB needs to put a lot of thought into it now," he said.


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Malaysia: Pangolins seized from carat roadblock

RUBEN SARIO The Star 26 Nov 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Pangolins bound for the cooking pot have been saved, thanks to observant policemen manning a roadblock in the southwest Beaufort district.

The policemen discovered the animals tied up in nine sacks when they checked a car driven by a man from Johor on Oct 30.

Two of the pangolins had already died while others were severely dehydrated and under stress.

The police immediately alerted the Sabah Wildlife Department and its rangers provided treatment to the pangolins.

Four of the animals subsequently survived, the department’s assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said.

Yesterday, the vehicle driver was fined RM10,000 by the Beaufort magistrate court’s after he admitted to illegally possessing 12 pangolins.

Carlvin Cher Jia Wei, 21, pleaded guilty to the charge under section 41(2) of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 before Magistrate Ryan Sagirann Raynor Jr.

He paid the fine.

Prosecuting Officer Abdul Karim Hj Dakog of the department told the court that the pangolins were hidden in a storage compartment of the car.

Department deputy director Augustine Tuuga said they would not tolerate crimes on wildlife in Sabah and all cases would be brought to court.

“I urge the public who have any information regarding crimes against wildlife to contact our 24 hour hotline number 012-8019289 so we can take appropriate action,” added Tuuga.


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Vietnam seizes over 1,000 dead endangered sea turtles

Record haul of over 1,000 endangered sea turtles, all dead, were bound for illegal export to China
AFP The Guardian 25 Nov 14;

Vietnam’s environmental police have seized a record haul of over 1,000 endangered sea turtles which were being prepared for illegal export to China, an official said on Tuesday.

“The turtles were all dead,” said Le Hong Thai, an official of the Ministry of public security’s environmental police department.

“They were meant to be processed into handicrafts for export to China,” he added.

The raids were made on Wednesday last week in the resort town of Nha Trang on Vietnam’s south-central coast.

“The case is under investigation, so we cannot reveal the number of detainees or any other details,” Thai said.

Marine turtles are protected under Vietnamese law. Hunting and trading, including the storing, of any of the five native species (green, leatherback, loggerhead, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles) is a criminal offence.

Scores of Vietnamese have been arrested in regional waters over the past years for catching or trading sea turtles.

Nguyen Phuong Dung, the director of conservation group Education for Nature-Vietnam, welcomed the raid but said it must be followed with legal penalties for those involved.

Courts “need to send the message that Vietnam is serious about prosecuting and punishing” crimes involving endangered species, she said in a statement.

Environmental groups say Vietnam is one of the world’s worst countries for trade in endangered species – an accusation which it denies.

Police regularly seize hauls of ivory, rhino horn and exotic species including pangolins and tigers, but conservation groups say these represent just a small part of the trade passing through the country.


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Wildlife crime study finds 33,000 items worth £7m for sale online

Biggest ever survey in 16 countries finds adverts for live tigers, orangutans and chimps – plus a ‘toilet-trained’ gorilla
Damian Carrington The Guardian 25 Nov 14;

The world’s endangered wildlife is for sale on the world wide web: live tigers, bears, orangutans and chimpanzees are all just a few clicks away. For those seeking a more manageable purchase, there are emerald boas, hummingbirds or poison dart frogs available by the dozen.

The trade in animal products is just as vigorous. Ivory dominates, but also on offer are polar bear rugs, snow leopards’ teeth and a £55,000 cup fashioned from a rhino’s horn.

The extent of the shadowy online trade in protected animals is revealed on Tuesday in the most comprehensive analysis of the multi-million-pound market yet published. The International Fund for Animal Welfare worked with law enforcement professionals to analyse the online trade in 16 target countries over a six week period earlier in 2014. They found over 33,000 animals and items that should be protected by international laws on sale at a total value of $11m (£7m). Many of the online adverts identified are now being investigated by police.

“As poaching reaches alarming levels, wildlife cybercrime poses a sinister, silent threat to endangered species, enabling criminals to go about their grisly business with anonymity,” said Azzedine Downes, president and chief executive of IFAW.

Wildlife crime is estimated to be worth $19bn a year, making it the fourth most lucrative illegal trade after drugs, counterfeit goods and human trafficking. It has been increasingly linked to organised crime, terrorism and militias and Ban Ki-moon has warned the UN security council of the threat it poses to global security.

The UK had the fourth highest number of online adverts for protected wildlife, after China, Germany and France, with British adverts including birds of prey, monkeys and a hyacinth macaw offered for £15,000.

“Wildlife crime can seem like a remote problem but the internet brings it into everyone’s home,” said Philip Mansbridge, IFAW’s UK director. He said the report, while wide-ranging, exposed only a fraction of wildlife cybercrime. “If you think about all the countries in the world where people are using the internet, then it is obvious the scale of the trade is mind-blowing”

To compile the report, IFAW’s experts scoured openly accessible websites in 16 countries and found almost 10,000 adverts on 280 sites in the six-week study period. They focused on the most seriously endangered species, for which international trade is forbidden under Appendix One of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). Some species on Appendix Two, for which export permits must obtained, were also included if law-breaking was suspected.

The team found a menagerie of wildlife for sale, both dead and alive. The highest number of adverts for large, live animals were found in Russia and Ukraine, even after investigators had been careful to exclude scams aimed at tricking money from potential buyers. The Russian adverts included orangutans and chimpanzees for sale, starting at $45,000, as well as tigers, leopards, jaguars and a “toilet-trained” gorilla. The Ukraine sites offered live crocodiles, Asian black bears and an extremely rare bridled nail-tail wallaby. Sites in the Middle East also offered live animals, including cheetahs at $18,000 and exotic gazelles and antelopes.

Overall, ivory was the most commonly touted product in the online adverts, accounting for almost a third. “An elephant is killed now every 15 minutes. It is incredibly disturbing,” said Mansbridge. “The scale of wildlife crime has reached unprecedented levels.”

Ivory items comprised 80% of the adverts found on Chinese websites, including one carving being sold at $65,000. Other Chinese ads touted rhinoceros items for sale as well as tiger bone wine. Rhino poaching in South Africa has reached an all-time high this year, with 1,020 animals already killed.

Ivory was also the most commonly touted item in the UK. Investigators found 406 suspected ivory items, of which 376 were on eBay. This represents a 50% increase since the last IFAW study in 2008, despite the online auction company banning such sales that year.

Wolfgang Weber, an eBay director, said: “Acting on information from IFAW and other organisations, we have been able to put new measures in place to prevent sellers from listing items of concern on the site. In order to even better address this issue we will apply stricter sanctions against sellers who intentionally circumvent our enforcement.”

After ivory, reptiles were the next most common category of advert (26%) around the world, offering turtles, tortoises and lizards to collectors. Turtles and tortoises accounted for 70% of German adverts, including a critically endangered Egyptian tortoise. The north-German city of Hamm is an international hub for the reptile trade.

A report next month from German NGO Pro Wildlife will criticise the EU for enabling trade in species that are fully protected in their home nations such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Guatemala. “Professional reptile smugglers specialise in such species, because this dirty business promises maximum profit at minimum risk,” said Sandra Altherr of Pro Wildlife. “Currently sought after are Borneo earless monitor lizards at €8,000 per pair.”

A wide range of poison dart frogs made up 30% of all advertisements in the Netherlands, including phantasmal poison frogs and strawberry poison dart frogs. As with almost all the adverts investigated in the IFAW study, virtually none made any reference to the legality of their items and none provided legal documentation.

Adverts for birds were also common around the world (23%), ranging from birds of prey to parrots and including 100 owls for sale in the UK alone.

Mansbridge said a key recommendation of the IFAW report was to appoint wildlife cybercrime officers to national crime units. The UK had such a post but it was lost due to budget cuts and the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit only has funding until 2016. A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The government is committed to tackling illegal trade in wildlife products, which is why we have designed a £10m package over four years to reduce demand, strengthen law enforcement, and develop sustainable livelihoods for communities that have been affected by it.”

“It is also why earlier this year the UK hosted the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference where 40 countries agreed at the highest political level on practical steps to eradicate this global trade, including in rhino horn, ivory and tiger parts.”


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Geo-engineering: Climate fixes 'could harm billions'

David Shukman BBC News 25 Nov 14;

Schemes to tackle climate change could prove disastrous for billions of people, but might be required for the good of the planet, scientists say.

That is the conclusion of a new set of studies into what's become known as geo-engineering.

This is the so far unproven science of intervening in the climate to bring down temperatures.

These projects work by, for example, shading the Earth from the Sun or soaking up carbon dioxide.

Ideas include aircraft spraying out sulphur particles at high altitude to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes or using artificial "trees" to absorb CO2.

Long regarded as the most bizarre of all solutions for global warming, ideas for geo-engineering have come in for more scrutiny in recent years as international efforts to limit carbon emissions have failed.

Now three combined research projects, led by teams from the universities of Leeds, Bristol and Oxford, have explored the implications in more detail.

The central conclusion, according to Dr Matt Watson of Bristol University, is that the issues surrounding geo-engineering - how it might work, the effects it might have and the potential downsides - are "really really complicated".

Sun block

"We don't like the idea but we're more convinced than ever that we have to research it," he said.

"Personally I find this stuff terrifying but we have to compare it to doing nothing, to business-as-usual leading us to a world with a 4C rise."

The studies used computer models to simulate the possible implications of different technologies - with a major focus on ideas for making the deserts, seas and clouds more reflective so that incoming solar radiation does not reach the surface.

One simulation imagined sea-going vessels spraying dense plumes of particles into the air to try to alter the clouds. But the model found that this would be far less effective than once thought.

Another explored the option of injecting sulphate aerosols into the air above the Arctic in an effort to reverse the decline of sea-ice.

A key finding was that none of the simulations managed to keep the world's temperature at the level experienced between 1986-2005 - suggesting that any effort would have to be maintained for years.

More alarming for the researchers were the potential implications for rainfall patterns.

Although all the simulations showed that blocking the Sun's rays - or solar radiation management, as it is called - did reduce the global temperature, the models revealed profound changes to precipitation including disrupting the Indian Monsoon.

Prof Piers Forster of Leeds University said: "We have found that between 1.2 and 4.1 billion people could be adversely affected by changes in rainfall patterns.

"The most striking example of a downside would be the complete drying-out of the Sahel region of Africa - that would be very difficult to adapt to for those substantial populations - and that happens across all the scenarios."

Despite the risk of catastrophic side-effects from geo-engineering, the study authors believe that research should continue just in case runaway warming leaves no other options.

Prof Forster said: "If we were in a really desperate situation, trying to cool the temps for a 10-20 year time period, there could be some merit in those circumstances in introducing solar radiation management to give you a 10-20 year time period."

Lack of knowledge

According to Prof Steve Rayner of Oxford University, it is easier to devise the technology than to understand its effects or how its use should be governed.

"If you were just thinking of the capability of putting sulphate aerosols in the atmosphere, that you could do in less than two decades - whether you would know it was smart to do it in less than two decades is another question.

"We don't know enough - we have a few islands of knowledge in a sea of ignorance and it's absolutely worth knowing more. There is the potential that some of these technologies may be part of a broader tool kit of ways in which we can better manage climate change.

"People decry solar radiation management as a band-aid but band-aids can be useful for healing."

Geo-engineering has long been one of the most controversial aspects of the debate about solutions to climate change and few experiments have been conducted in the field.

One of the largest, known as Lohafex, was an Indian-German experiment in 2009 which involved dumping six tonnes of an iron solution into the South Atlantic to encourage plankton to bloom - trapping carbon which would then be sent to the seabed when the organisms died. Results showed limited success.

Another proposal for the trial flight of a balloon in Britain, as part of geo-engineering research for the SPICE project, attracted stiff opposition from environmental groups and was cancelled.

It would have been the precursor to a test of a technique for pumping sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere in an effort to bounce solar radiation back into space and cool the planet.


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Best of our wild blogs: 25 Nov 14



Sun 30 Nov’14: Introduction Tour to Bukit Brown
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Pollination of Citrus x microcarpa flowers
from Bird Ecology Study Group


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More caught camping illegally

Lim Yi Han The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Nov 14;

More people have been caught camping without a permit at East Coast Park in recent years.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has issued more notices of offence for illegal camping there. It has handed out 1,122 notices as of Nov 4, nearly double the 671 doled out for the whole of last year. In 2012, the number was 410.

Most of these were issued to people who did not apply for a permit or were camping in non-designated camping sites, said NParks director of parks Chia Seng Jiang.

He attributed the increase to NParks stepping up its patrolling and enforcement efforts.

The Straits Times understands that the increased effort is a result of media reports late last year on illegal campers.

A permit is required for both day and overnight camping, so that the authorities can cap the number of tents to prevent overcrowding.

The only exception is at Pulau Ubin, where tents can be pitched at designated areas without a permit.

The public can apply for permits at any AXS station or online, and each applicant can camp for only four days a month.

Camping is also allowed at designated areas at Pasir Ris Park and West Coast Park, besides East Coast Park and Pulau Ubin.

Said Mr Chia: "This is to allow our park spaces to be enjoyed by the various segments of users, and to ensure that our parks continue to offer a pleasant environment for recreation and leisure."

While there are notices of offences issued at other parks, The Straits Times understands most people are caught at East Coast Park. It is the most popular destination because of the array of facilities and long stretch of beach, campers said.

IT manager Linus Loo, 41, camps overnight with his family and friends once every three months at East Coast Park.

He welcomed greater enforcement because "it discourages undesirable activities such as people committing indecent acts in the tents or even outside", which he said is not ideal for the family-friendly park.

"But too much checking may annoy people, so there has to be a balance," he added.

Plumber Ahmad Said, 60, said: "It's good that they come and check, there could be illegal immigrants living in the parks."

But some insisted that it was troublesome to apply for the permits.

A 26-year-old, who declined to be named and camps with his girlfriend once every two weeks, said: "I'm lazy to do it. Anyway, I only stay for five to six hours here. Even though I don't apply, no one has caught me yet."

Those who fail to apply for a permit or camp outside designated areas may be fined up to $2,000.


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Urban farmers: Growing own greens fast becoming food trend in Singapore

Tay Suan Chiang The Business Times AsiaOne 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE - Vegetable farms in Singapore? Lim Chu Kang isn't the only area in the country where edible greens are grown.

From private balconies, to office premises, and neighbourhood plots, a growing number of folks are digging their fingers into dirt and planting crops.

Spa Esprit's CEO Cynthia Chua recently invested in Edible Gardens, an urban farming consultancy firm that helps design and build vegetable gardens for restaurants, schools and homes.

Together, they have set up a rooftop garden at Wheelock Place which is used for planting vegetables and herbs. The harvest will be for use in Spa Esprit's Tippling Club restaurant.

"I've always like the idea of farming, and was inspired by the rose farms in France. Those roses go into the making of Chanel perfume," says Ms Chua.

"Farming and connecting to nature is very on-trend now." She has not started growing vegetables in her own backyard, but has friends who have done so.

"My friends have grown sweet potato leaves, basil and chillies to much success," she says excitedly.

Ms Chua adds that homegrown vegetables are often more tender, and setting up a garden need not cost an arm and a leg.

"We should all try to practise sustainable living," she says.

BT Weekend meets a group of urban farmers.

Balcony gardener

When Shi Xiaowei, a partner in a marketing communications agency, recently posted on Facebook photos of the kale and peppers she grows on her balcony, amazed friends bombarded her with comments.

Ms Shi began gardening about four years ago, when she moved into an apartment with a spacious balcony and plenty of sun.

"Since the family didn't want to fill the balcony with furniture, I thought I would beautify it with ornamental plants," says Ms Shi.

"The idea of growing edible plants came about because I wanted my kids to cultivate a love for nature and gardening, and I wanted to eat healthily and save money on buying herbs."

She started with rosemary, basil, thyme, and sage to moderate success, but the plant she was most proud of was a pumpkin plant that stretched across her balcony.
"The fruit was puny but I was a proud parent nonetheless," she says.

The list of greens now sprouting on her balcony include sweet basil, Thai basil, aloe vera, edible cactus, peppers, round chillies, mint, marjoram, rosemary, kale, salad leaves - an assortment of lettuce, chives and pumpkin - and "if we are lucky, an interbred short papaya tree whose seeds we hauled from an organic farm in Kluang," she says.

"My daughter, Ashley, sowed it last week, so we await the seedlings with bated breath."

The vegetables are grown for the family's consumption, but "I give away most of the herbs as you can only consume so much rosemary".

Some of the vegetables that she grows are bigger than commercially grown produce found in supermarkets.

"The cai xin had leaves bigger than my palms, and the stems were thick and strong," she says.

"Mine definitely tasted better because they were cooked immediately after harvesting."

The Western herbs are mostly used for seasoning and marinades.

Occasionally, she uses them to make pesto, herb butter, and infused oil for cooking and beauty purposes, such as rosemary oil for her hair.

She cannot recall the last time she paid for herbs, but still buys leafy vegetables because what she grows isn't enough for her family of five.

She prefers growing leafy vegetables from seeds, which she buys from the nurseries, as "they tend to grow stronger".

She finds it challenging to grow herbs from seeds, so she purchases herb plants from supermarkets and grows them herself.

Apart from making sure that her vegetables and herbs get sufficient water and sun, Ms Shi says placements of the plants is also important.

"The balcony can get scorching hot, and I have to move some plants in and out of the balcony every day, which can be hard work when there are five pots to move everyday."

Leafy plants like kale and lettuce need a wide pot.

"I am big on recycling so I plant them in used styrofoam boxes and whatever wide containers I can find," she says. "Tin cans are also good holders for seedlings."
She also spends time checking the condition of her plants and researching help and advice online.

"Next to harvesting, reviving a wilting plant and seeing it flourish is the most gratifying part about gardening," says Ms Shi.

Neighbourhood watch

Product consultant Gina Ong was an urban farmer even before the term became hip.

Back in 2002, she started a community garden near her home in Marine Crescent, with the help of its Residents' Committee. Five years after that, she did the same in the Laguna Park condominium, where she still lives.

Ms Ong manages both gardens together with about 20 residents from Marine Crescent and 10 neighbours at Laguna Park.

In the latter, crops include pandan, lemon grass, Chinese herbs like Sabah snake plant, sweet potatoes, basil, rosemary, tarragon, and wolfberry leaves.

"We've grown vegetables from Day One, when one of our long-time residents planted wolfberry leaves, chives and sweet potatoes," says Ms Ong.

At Marine Crescent, herbs were initially planted, but as more residents preferred vegetables, the residents now grow edible greens.

They now have a wide range including cai xin, xiao bai cai, spinach, okra, kang kong, lettuce, brinjal, bitter gourd and pennywort leaves.

The vegetables are growing so well, that the residents harvest some for an elderly lodge nearby.

With over a decade of experience, Ms Ong has plenty of stories to share.

"When we first started, our seed germination always failed as we just threw the seeds into the soil. Then we used seedling trays, which turned out to be a better method," she says.

"As the seedlings grew, they were eaten up by grasshoppers and snails."

The residents sought help from the National Parks Board and AVA, who taught them to use nets to cover our plots.

"We also have a SWAT team to catch snails and slugs at night," quips Ms Ong. She says the vegetables from the two plots are much sweeter and fresher compared to those bought from the markets.

Ms Ong is only too happy to dish out advice to those who want to grow their own vegetables too.

"For beginners, try cai xin, as it is easy to grow. It is best to grow the seeds in seed trays until they are about three inches high, before transplanting them into the soil," she says.

Her other tips include using neem oil to fend off insects and bugs, and using organic fertiliser such as chicken dung to keep plants growing fast and healthy and reduce the chance of disease.

Office planters

At Singapore Technologies Kinetics, staff come to the office early, take shorter lunches, stay back after work and even come in on Saturdays. Not to show off to their bosses, but to tend the office garden.

They are part of the 20-strong gardening club at the land systems and speciality vehicles arm of Singapore Technologies Engineering.

Its industrial-looking premises at Jalan Boon Lay has three gardens - Garden in Bloom, which has flowers, fruit trees and vegetables, Evergreen, which has only fruit trees, and Sonata, which has flowers and fruit trees.

Yeap Khek Teong, vice-president of management systems and processes, and chairman of the gardening committee says, that while the gardens were started in 2009, it was only in 2012, that they started growing vegetables.

"Planting vegetables started off as an experiment as we are all urban dwellers with little or no experience in growing vegetables," says Mr Yeap.

"Our motivation is to see if we are successful in growing edibles and making it sustainable."

Mindful of the harmful effects of consuming pesticides in their greens, the staff at ST Kinetics grow vegetables without them.

Mr Yeap adds that growing vegetables has also intangible benefits, as it provides staff with a platform for exercise and stress relief.

"There is a sense of satisfaction in harvesting what is sown," he says.

The well laid and maintained garden is also a visual treat, and has also created interest among non-gardening staff who wanted to know how they can grow vegetables on their own.

Vegetables such as kai lan, lettuce, long beans and okra are just some of the greens planted in the Garden in Bloom plot.

Apart from edible greens, there's also mint, bananas, longan, dragon fruit and passion fruit.

When Mr Yeap and his colleagues first started their vegetable experiment, they grew kai lan in a large recycled semi-circular drum.

When more people showed interest, Mr Yeap added more variety.

"As we have limited space within the garden, I introduced 'high-rise' vegetable planting," he says.

He designed two vertical structures to allow large containers to be placed above each other. The two structures can accommodate 12 large containers.

"We later expanded to an unused strip behind the garden wall to house more styrofoam boxes for planting vegetables," says Mr Yeap.

Depending on the crop, most leafy vegetables can be harvested with a month or so.

Long beans will take close to two months.

After harvesting, the greens are distributed to staff involved in gardening.

"On special occasions, we grow the vegetables for cooking class demonstrations for staff," says Mr Yeap.

What he and his colleagues have learnt is that vegetables need not be planted in the ground, and deep containers can be used for planting.

"By planting in containers, you can choose the best quality soil for the vegetables," he says.

"If you have space constraints, why not try planting in vertical tiers like ours?"

Steady harvest

When the chefs at Fairmont Singapore or Swissotel The Stamford give you the usual spiel about using only fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits, they're not exaggerating.

Most of their greens come from the hotel's private herb and vegetable garden located on the fifth floor of the hotel complex.

The hotels started their herb and vegetable garden in 2008, and were one of the pioneers of urban farming in Singapore.

Measuring 600 sq ft, the garden is now three times the size of the original and was moved to its current location in June last year, before receiving its new harvest last November.

Executive chef Robert Stirrup says the garden was first created to provide the various F&B establishments managed by the hotels, with a steady harvest of organically grown herbs and vegetables such as rosemary, thyme, six varieties of mint and basil, dill, lemongrass, oregano and tarragon.

Since the revamp and the re-launch of the new herb and vegetable garden, "we now grow a more extensive collection of herbs, micro-greens, vegetables, fruits and edible flowers that are produced organically and follow the principles of organic production," says Mr Stirrup.

The garden has an impressive list of over 50 varieties of herbs and vegetables; some of the essential crops include arugula, basil, bulls blood beets, zucchini flowers, celery, cilantro, cress, onions, kolrani, dill, bergamot, lavender and sage.

Mr Stirrup says: "The new homegrown greens, fruits and edible flowers are freshly picked for our restaurants and bars, such as Jaan and Equinox at Swissotel The Stamford, as well as Mikuni and Prego at Fairmont Singapore.

"In-house guests can also enjoy the fresh produce in the comfort of their own rooms when they order a selection of dishes from the in-room dining menus. Grains and fruits, either whole or as juices, are also part of the breakfast spread at both hotels."

The latest addition, cocktail bar Anti: dote at Fairmont Singapore, uses a variety of fragrant herbs and flowers from the garden in its signature cocktails and modern tapas.

The hotels' service staff often share useful insights on these crops with hotel guests they interact with.

"We can also further arrange for our hotel guests to visit and learn more about our herb garden should they be interested," says Mr Stirrup.

Pockets of growth

Hedrick Kwan, founder of Plant Visionz believes that "everyone should be producers of something".

He runs a gardening business which he started in 2012, which also teaches people how to grow their own vegetables.

"Even if what is grown makes up only 10 per cent of your diet, you can save money and get better health. The key is sustainable life," says Mr Kwan.

Similarly, James Lam, founder of UGrowGardens Australia, which has a branch in Singapore, adds that when people grow their own vegetables, "it is economical, fresh and clean in addition to helping reduce carbon footprints. The vegetables are more nutritious too."

This trend is growing in Singapore.

Both Mr Kwan and Mr Lam say that 50 per cent of their business comes from private home owners who want to try their hand at vegetable growing.

And the good thing is, you do not need a lot of space to be able to grow your own edible greens.

"Any space is possible, so long as there is some ambient light," says Mr Kwan.

"You can grow food on the kitchen table, on walls, on window grilles, on the balcony fence. It is about getting creative."

Plant Visionz offers table sprouters that retail at S$40 that come with an assortment of vegetable seeds.

There's also the Wolly Pocket at S$150 per pocket, that can be hung on the wall. Seedlings are placed in these pockets to grow.

Alternatively, Mr Kwan can also advise and help homeowners set up a vegetable garden.

"Soil foundation is important and putting the right plant for the area is another key factor," says Mr Kwan, on his hands-on approach.

Some vegetables that his clients have had success with include kai lan, cai xin, bayam and kang kong.

Mr Lam, who started UGrowGardens, aims to provide innovation solutions for urban dwellers to produce low cost, high yielding, fresh and clean vegetables.

"The vision is to grow the equivalent of a 9 sq ft garden patch using only 1.5 sq feet of space," says Mr Lam.

To do this, Mr Lam created the Ugrow Vertical growing system, which can easily fit into any balcony or corridor.

Mr Lam also helps clients choose the right vegetables to grow, and provides a watering system that ensures even moisture throughout the UGrow Vegetable System so that clients are able to grow plants all over its surface.

It costs S$120 to set up the system which includes fertilisers, seedlings, irrigation pipe and other necessary components.

Meanwhile, Edible Garden City which designs, builds and maintains food gardens for clients that include restaurants, hotels, schools and residences, will run an urban farming school at Rowell Road next year.

"The school will cater to all urbanites wanting to learn how to grow their own food from apartment balconies to full fledged soil gardens," says co-founder Bjorn Low.


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Rats' boom town

Ng Jun Sen The New Paper AsiaOne 25 Nov 14;

The rat scourge is growing in Singapore. Authorities have received more complaints, and pest control companies are reporting more rodent infestations this year.

He combs the ground for rat droppings, tracks and gnaw marks.

"Norway rat droppings have curved ends, roof rat droppings have pointed ends," he says clinically.

These scatological clues are what leads pest controller Nur Muhammad, 32, to the mother lode - a rat burrow. The process can take almost two hours.

One burrow can house up to 30 rats. His team of pest controllers found 16 such burrows in a single hawker centre in the south of Singapore some time this year.

As a project manager from The Pestman, he is trained to eradicate all kinds of creepy pests.

But lately, cases of rodent infestations and sightings have been popping up often on his roster.

"For some reason, I'm getting sent to more jobs about rats. Feels like there's more rats around," he says.

A check with pest control companies here reveals that rodent-related reports have spiked.

Three of them - The Pestman, PestBusters and Alliance Pest Management - say the number of reports has risen between 20 and 30 per cent this year.

INCREASING COMPLAINTS

Last month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it received 2,490 rodent-related feedback in the first nine months of this year, compared with 2,496 for all of last year.

It is a worrying trend.

One can be infected with various rat-transmitted diseases by breathing in dust or eating food that has been contaminated with rodent urine or droppings, he said.

If left unchecked, a pair of male and female rats can be responsible for producing at least 1,300 rats in a year.

In 2012, a foreign worker died from leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread by rats.

Mr Eugene Surendra, technical director of PestBusters, says: "This year, we are doing more 'flush outs' than before. These are meant for buildings that have established rat populations."

The rodent species here are also difficult to eliminate because of their survivability and resilience.

"I have seen a rat jump over a glue trap... Rats are known for their excellent memory and survival skills. It is not easy for a layman to know how to effectively eradicate them," he says.

For one Toa Payoh resident, Mr K. H. Tan, 44, rats are "an absolute nightmare".

Says the taxi driver in Mandarin: "I have seen so many of them at my void deck recently. I can hear them in the drains and bushes. Very scary, especially when they suddenly run across (the path in front of) you."

His home is spared the infestation as he lives on a high floor. But returning home can be terrifying, says the father of two.

"We have to brisk walk from the car to the lift. I don't want my kids to get bitten."

SO WHY IS THERE A SPIKE?

Entomologist Dr Foo Foong Kuan from Alliance Pest Management, believes it's because of the increase in construction projects here.

"(Construction activity) disturbs the rodents' habitats, causing them to seek shelter in housing estates," she explains.

Another reason could be because our neighbourhood cats are too well fed, says Mr Surendra.

Other reasons given by the pest control companies include poor housekeeping practices and structural defects, which allow rodents to enter homes through the sewers or rubbish chutes.

In 2011 the NEA started an island-wide surveillance programme to monitor the rodent population. Last July, it awarded a $4.2 million contract to reduce the rat population in public areas for up to two years.

As part of its "Rat Attack" programme, the NEA also called for new public tenders to be awarded to 13 areas prone to rodent infestation late last year. This includes areas like Joo Chiat, Jalan Besar and Arab Street.

But Mr Surendra is uncertain that these programmes can completely remove the problem.

"You need total eradication. You can't just kill off eight out of 10 rats because you'll return back to square one after a few months.

"We are probably on the cusp of a population outbreak of rats."

When a rat problem hits home

Drats, I've got a rat in my pad.

Three rats, to be exact. I think.

I've lived in Pasir Ris for nearly two decades and I have never had a rat problem.

I would like to believe it's because my parents, two siblings and I know how to keep the place neat.

But for some reason, we've had three home invasions by roof rats in this year alone. The construction site nearby might have something to do with it.

No matter what the reasons are, these dastardly rats have destroyed my peace.

Like any family, we tie up the trash, we don't leave unwashed dishes in the sink overnight and we keep the kitchen door closed so that no creatures can come in.

We even say "hello" to the garbage collectors every day.

Imagine my shock when on one lovely sunny day earlier this year, I heard my mother shriek.

She had found a dead rat in our covered Ikea dustbin in the kitchen, where we throw our foodstuff. She has always been terrified of rats.

No one knows how it ended up there or how it died, but my parents were quick to chide me because they saw that the food in the bin belonged to yours truly.

"Why didn't you close the bin lid?" they asked.

That was our first ratty encounter. No big deal, it's just one rat after all.

Little did I know that the seeds of turmoil had been planted.

Our second brush with a rat happened in August. I was at work and I found out about it through a WhatsApp group message that my mother sent.

"Thanks for not closing the kitchen door at night, we have welcomed a new pet into the house and it has made a home in the storeroom.

"Your next bowl of soup shall be rat soup if Dad catches it," the message said.

Dad predictably caught it, thanks to his ingenious method of emptying a can of insecticide into the storeroom.

He waited hours for the "gas chamber" to take effect, then spent more time moving everything out of the storeroom to find the rat carcass.

The third encounter happened two weeks ago.

My father noticed another rat scampering around the kitchen. He caught it by baiting it onto a glue trap.

By then, social disorder had set into my once peaceful household.

My parents blamed my siblings and me for attracting the rats into the house. We were embroiled in our own heated debate over who left the kitchen door open.

At no point did we think to hire a pest controller to deal with the issue. Why pay when I've caught every rat so far, boasts my father.

Pest-busting experts recently told me that one rat can produce up to 84 babies in a year.

Since the last encounter, we have not seen any rats in our home.

But who knows how many more lurk in the shadows.

I don't think I can take having a fourth encounter, and I doubt I can go through another round of the blame game. Every night is marked with nagging reminders and accusations about who was responsible for the rodent incursions.

All I know is that the next time I hear so much as a rat squeak, I'm calling in the experts.


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PM Lee outlines the Smart Nation vision: Meaningful lives, enabled by technology

Leong Wai Kit, Channel NewsAsia 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: The Republic needs to take full advantage of technology, particularly information technology (IT), in order to be one of the outstanding cities in the world to live in, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This means fostering a Smart Nation, where people live meaningful and fulfilled lives enabled by technology.

Mr Lee, speaking at the Smart Nation launch event on Monday (Nov 24), said taking full advantage of technology cannot be "piecemeal" - something that is already being done - but must be approached systematically, to integrate all the different technologies together "in a coherent and comprehensive way", and create a platform where everyone can contribute.

Mr Lee said: "One way in which we are going to do this is to open up our maps, our databases of places and information about that so that the public can share their geospatial information.

"Imagine if we can tap everyone's local knowledge and anyone can contribute data - animal sightings, traffic incidents, potential hazards for cyclists, even the best mee pok or nasi lemak."

Singapore has already embarked on its Smart Nation journey, he said. Nine out of 10 households in the country have broadband access, while every home will soon have access to higher-speed fibre broadband.

Some other initiatives introduced include e-Government services such as IRAS e-filing, National Library Board (NLB) book borrowing services, and an integrated electronic medical records system that allows doctors to access patient information regardless of which hospital they visit.

"We need to build on these valuable elements to make a national effort and set ourselves the goal of becoming a Smart Nation," Mr Lee said.

With the Smart Nation initiative, one concern is cyber security. Mr Lee said that the Government will find ways to protect systems against cyber attacks, and these include banking and energy networks, as well as Smart Nation sensors.

ENHANCING CARE FOR THE ELDERLY

Mr Lee also said that integrating the online with the offline world would create more opportunities for the community to interact and help one another. One example is in the care for the country's senior citizens.

"Many of us have elderly parents to take care of - we worry for their health and safety. But many seniors also want to be independent and live their lives fully, rather than be completely reliant on others," the Prime Minister said.

To this end, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is piloting the Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System sensors in HDB flats, which use a combination of sensors, so that if the system detects something out of the ordinary, it can raise the alarm and alert family members or neighbours.

"We will have more than 900,000 seniors over 65 in Singapore by 2030, and our Smart Nation vision can radically change how we approach the challenge of active ageing, to give our seniors more to look forward to in their golden years," Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee also emphasised that no one will be left behind in the journey of becoming a Smart Nation - help will be provided in the form of Citizen Connect Centres, where officers can help those unfamiliar with IT to access Government services. Seniors can also sign up for affordable and customised IT training programmes.

There will also be "Silver Infocomm Junctions" that provide affordable and customised IT training for seniors.

Looking after the elderly with IT is just one idea out of the "endless possibilities" that the Smart Nation vision enables, Mr Lee said. The Government will lay the foundation - building the infrastructure, facilitating innovation and creating the framework for contribution - but ultimately, everyone needs to contribute to make the Smart Nation vision a reality, he said.

Mr Lee said: "Smart Nation is not just a slogan. It is a rallying idea for us all to work together, to transform our future together."

"I have described a few ideas. These are just scratching the surface because there are endless possibilities waiting to be dreamed of. We will only make this a Smart Nation if we get everybody active, engaged, excited, wanting to make this happen."

- CNA/kk/ac

Smart Nation's the way to go, says PM Lee
Rachel Au-yong My Paper AsiaOne 25 Nov 14;

Becoming a "smart nation" will not only improve lives, but make the country more competitive, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

He was spelling out his vision for the Smart Nation initiative, which calls on the Government, companies and industries to develop technology to improve people's lives, from urban planning to credit card-less payments.

If it does not, Singapore might lose its position among leading cities, as peers like Shanghai and Sydney "attract capital, talent, ideas... (and are) pulling ahead of the pack".

"We have to move ahead with them and stay up there among the leading cities of the world. We owe it to our people," he said at the biennial national infocomm awards and launch of the Smart Nation initiative, held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

To that end, he has set up the Smart Nation Programme Office, which coordinates the tech efforts of research bodies and government agencies. It comes under the Prime Minister's Office and will be headed by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. More details will be released next month.

Such a "whole-of-nation" approach helps ensure a systematic way to "make the most of our potential", he said.

At one point during his 35-minute speech, Mr Lee demonstrated how to use a new app to plan bus journeys, to illustrate how technology can make things more convenient for people. "If we can automate the things that are routine, then we can concentrate on the things that really matter," he said.

But beyond personal convenience, technology can also help strengthen the community, and look after the elderly. For example, the Housing Board is piloting a system, which uses motion sensors to detect if an elderly resident's routine has changed suddenly, and send an alert to family members or neighbours if so.

The country is well-placed to become a smart nation, as most own smartphones and have broadband access, said Mr Lee. Many are also tech-savvy, while students' math and science scores are consistently ranked highest in the world.

It is heartening that some government e-services are among the best in the world, he said. Pointing to the Health Ministry's central database, which helps doctors keep track of health records regardless of which hospital the patient is at, he said: "Some countries have spent tens of billions of dollars trying to build a system like this, and sometimes give up.

"We're not completely there but we're making progress and getting it to work."

But even as Singapore ramps up its technology drive, he assured that those less technologically-savvy - especially senior citizens - will not be left behind.

This includes providing those without computers with access to government online services in community clubs. "We have to prevent a digital divide from happening, (between) people who know IT and can afford it, and those who don't have IT and don't know how to use IT," he said.

The local court system, which files documents electronically, has done so, by providing booths and assistance to those who need help filing paperwork. "So you may be rich, you may be poor, if you have to go to the courts, if you need to have access to justice, you get access to justice."

He also promised to beef up security measures, to make sure sensitive information like medical data is not stolen, and protect against malicious attacks like hacking. Several government websites were defaced late last year.

"We already have cyber-security duties residing in the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the IDA, but I don't think that they are as strong as we would like them to be," he said, adding that the Government was also studying how to protect other critical sectors like telecommunications and banking.

But even as the Government works out these obstacles, it must also invest in the next generation of programmers, by encouraging students to learn to code and reviewing the career paths of the Government's engineers. "We need to strengthen our own capabilities. We cannot just be outsourcing everything," he said.

Concluding, Mr Lee said: "We have what it takes to achieve this vision - the capabilities and daring to pull it all together and to make a quantum leap forward."

Teach students computer coding, urges PM Lee
Lim Yan Liang My Paper AsiaOne 25 Nov 14;
Singapore schools should teach students tech skills such as computer programming, so they can learn to create the technology of the future, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Fleshing out the social and cultural aspects of how Singapore can become a technology-enhanced "smart nation", PM Lee noted that this transformation requires the right education as well as a "can-do spirit of experimenting and risk-taking".

Such creative energy is what sets apart tech hubs like Silicon Valley and the headquarters of Chinese Internet giant Tencent in Shenzhen, he said in a speech at at the launch of the Smart Nation vision yesterday.

Singapore needs the same passion and excitement towards innovation, even in government agencies like the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), he added.

While the infocomm regulator "can't quite be like a Silicon Valley company", it must "push the envelope" in using technology to find new approaches to existing problems.

The Government is also keen on building up its in-house tech capabilities and is conducting an ongoing review of how the public sector manages the careers of its engineers and technology workers, PM Lee said.

He also noted the "lively" start-up scene here, with more young people writing apps and building high-tech products, and an increasing number of top students choosing to study computer science and information systems.

"We must get our children in schools exposed to IT, exposed to programming," Mr Lee said, adding that in some countries, all children are required to learn the basics of coding.

Talented students should also be able to pursue their tech interests through various paths, whether by forming a start-up, joining a tech company or working with the Government to make Singapore a smart nation, he added.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, who heads the Government's new Smart Nation Programme Office, echoed PM Lee's comments that education and attitudes here have to change for Singapore to capitalise on the tech revolution.

From learning the three "R"s - reading, writing and arithmetic - people must now learn the "ABCs: an Aesthetic sense of beauty and design, the ability to Build, and the ability to Communicate effectively", he said on Facebook last evening.

Singaporeans also need to overcome their fear of failure and be prepared to experiment, while the country will have to place more emphasis on online security and privacy, he added.

Tech bosses here welcomed PM Lee's remarks, saying workers with a foundation of programming literacy can be more productive at the workplace.

"Even if you don't use programming in your everyday work, if you can write a simple programme to automate tasks or organise information, that's useful in a lot of ways," said Tan Sian Yue, 40, founder of home-grown game developer Ratloop Asia.

New coordinating unit set up to drive Smart Nation initiatives
Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: The Smart Nation Programme Office, which will help drive initiatives to make Singapore a Smart Nation, was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Nov 24).

The new unit will come under the Prime Minister's Office, with Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan in charge. It will perform a coordinating role, with the aim of bringing citizens, Government and industry together to identify issues, co-develop solutions, prototype ideas and deploy them effectively.

This office will make sure "we take a whole-of-Government, whole-of-nation approach to build the Smart Nation", Mr Lee said, speaking at the Smart Nation launch event on Monday morning.

One example of this approach is the Virtual Singapore project, which the Prime Minister launched at the event. The project aims to develop an integrated, three-dimension map of Singapore, enriched with layers of data about buildings, land and the environment.

NATIONAL INFOCOMM AWARD WINNERS

Mr Lee also congratulated the winners of the National Infocomm Awards on Monday. The biennial event recognises organisations' effort in using innovation to develop new products or services.

The award was given to 12 private and public organisations, such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA). In 2008, LTA set up a data squad of engineers tasked to improve commuters' travel experience. The team studied data based on commuters' travel patterns.

Then, in 2010, it used the data collected to decide which areas needed more buses, and to determine the frequency of the services. For that effort, LTA won the Most Innovative Use of Infocomm Technology Award in the public sector category.

Another winner was DBS, which uses technology to study the volume of transactions of ATMs across the island. This helps DBS predict which machines need cash top-ups even before they run out of money.

Nimish Panchmatia, head of consumer banking operations at DBS, said: "The programme that we embarked on was largely around customer experience and customer experience improvement. Naturally, if we do see some trends in withdrawal or anything like that which require us to work together with the authorities, we do."

DBS won the Most Innovative Use of Infocomm Technology in the private sector category.

This year's award ceremony also featured projects by students. One student from the Singapore University of Technology and Design, Lee Jia Wen, came up with a device to control drones using just hands alone - known as gesture control technology. It also has potential for use in other applications.

He elaborated: "You could turn your lights on in your home with a clap, for example. What happens is that the sensor on your wrist can actually read translational movement, and map the movement on to another form of signal that will activate the light and turn it on."

- CNA/kk/ac

Smart Nation initiative 'about people, not machines': Vivian Balakrishnan
Channel NewsAsia 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: The man tasked with overseeing Singapore's push to become the world's first Smart Nation said the initiative is "all about people, not machines". Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, touched on priorities for the new Smart Nation Programme Office, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Nov 24).

In a Facebook post, Dr Balakrishan said there are some important questions to be answered for the Smart Nation drive to be a success. For instance - how can Singapore foster an "open source" society, where data, insights and solutions are shared openly to create maximum impact and value? Where does Singapore look for best ideas? Also, will those involved be above to overcome their "fear of failure" and be prepared to experiment?

He also raised the issue of security. "We certainly need world-leading digital infrastructure. Also, we need security, privacy and protection of identity, as the volume of online transactions and data increases. Our systems must be secure by design, not a reactive afterthought; and we all as individuals will need to be aware of the risks and know how best to protect ourselves," Dr Balakrishan said.

The minister noted that the world is seeing a "once-in-a-lifetime revolution" with advances in cloud computing, ubiquitous communications and sensors and big data analytics, and more. If Singapore helms these developments properly, he said, it can secure the country's future, enhance quality of life, expand opportunities for all, and build stronger communities.

He said his team will engage stakeholders in the coming months. "Smart Nation is not just another Government plan or committee. We can only succeed if the public, private and people sectors co-create the vision and work together to make it happen," he wrote.

"Join us for the ride of our lifetime. Success is not guaranteed, but it will be exhilarating as we create a working model of the future together - Empowering Everyone Everything Everywhere."

- CNA/dl

Singapore must exploit IT advantage to stay ahead: PM
JOY FANG Today Online 25 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE — To compete against other leading cities such as New York, London and Shanghai, the Republic has to fully exploit its advantage in information technology and become a “Smart Nation”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday as he laid out the vision for Singapore to become a nation “whose people live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all”.

But to make the quantum leap and realise the vision within the next decade, efforts are needed in areas such as beefing up cybersecurity and teaching students how to create the technology of the future, said Mr Lee, who first announced the Smart Nation initiative during the National Day Rally in August.

Singapore must also systematically “integrate all of the technology and the possibilities into a coherent and comprehensive whole”, as opposed to using technology in a piecemeal fashion — which it is already doing. To that end, a new Smart Nation Programme Office will be set up under the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate the Government agencies, citizens and industries to ensure a “whole-of-government, whole-of-nation” approach.

It will aim to bring citizens, the Government and industry together to identify issues, prototype ideas and deploy them effectively. The office will report to Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, said Mr Lee, adding that he would take a “personal interest”.

Speaking at the National Infocomm Awards and the launch of the Smart Nation initiative yesterday, Mr Lee said the Government will lay the foundation by building infrastructure and facilitating innovation.

On their part, companies should seize opportunities to provide a service or a product that enhances the people’s lives. Citizens can also chip in by participating in the national effort and providing local knowledge and data.

He noted that with the tonnes of information and data put into computer networks and even smartphones, cybersecurity is crucial. “We take it seriously, we already have cybersecurity duties presiding in the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), but I don’t think that they are as strong as we would like them to be and we need to reorganise that to strengthen our systems and our institutions. We are studying how best to do that,” he said.

He added that Government systems as well as other critical systems such as in telecoms, banking and energy need to be protected. “You will never be completely impregnable, but I think we need to be as secure and safe as we can be.”

In terms of education, he said that students should be taught to “code, prototype and build things, to fail fast and learn quickly”.

He added: “We must get our children exposed to IT (and) exposed to programming. It’s a long way for us, but in some countries, all kids are required to learn to code.” People also need to have a “can-do” spirit of experimentation and risk-taking, akin to that found in Silicon Valley in the United States, he said.

Mr Lee also urged the IDA to be bolder and push the envelope in using technology to seek new applications and find new approaches to existing problems.

Mr Lee noted that Singapore has already embarked on the Smart Nation journey, with e-Government services in place, high smartphone penetration and a lively start-up scene as well as a tech-savvy people.

Several initiatives are already under way: Driverless buggies are being piloted at the Jurong Lake District and other driverless vehicles will be tested on some routes in One North next year. Near Field Communications (NFC) payments for retail and transport have also been on trial here, while the HDB is studying how to improve parking allocation in its carparks and design flats to plug and play smart devices.

In a Facebook post, Dr Balakrishnan stressed the importance of people and not machines in this “once-in-a-lifetime revolution”.

The skills of reading, writing and arithmetic are no longer enough, he said, pointing out that people need “an Aesthetic sense of beauty & design, the ability to Build, and the ability to Communicate effectively: the ‘ABCs’ of our education system”.

He added that societies left behind in the revolution will be in deep trouble as they are unable to cope with technological disruptions on jobs, environment and culture. “On the other hand, if we do it right we can secure our future, enhance our quality of life, expand opportunities for all and build stronger communities.”

Making payments with a watch, 3D map among Smart Nation projects
KELLY NG Today Online 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE — As efforts to turn the Republic into a Smart Nation get further underway, Singaporeans can look forward to using a watch to make payments or turn to a 3D map to find the best nasi lemak in town, among other things, in the near future.

Under the blueprint laid out by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today (Nov 24), the Government will focus on enhancing citizens’ lives in four key areas: Mobility, homes, lifelong needs, and daily transactions.

For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is looking into streamlining different modes of payment into a single instrument — which may take the form of a watch, ring, or even an identity card, fitted with a chip. Consumers will thus be spared from having to carry too many cards around.

Over time, Singaporeans will be able to use the same payment device to settle transactions made while they are abroad, as the Government works towards promoting interoperable e-payment solutions in the Association of South-east Asian Nations and other countries around the world.

Then, there is Virtual Singapore, a project that will culminate in an integrated 3D map with layers of data about local buildings, land and the environment. It was launched today by the National Research Foundation, Singapore Land Authority and Infocomm Development Authority.

Virtual Singapore will be an upgrade of the current OneMap (www.onemap.sg), an online map that includes more than 8,000 data sets — such as traffic information, census data and unemployment rates — from over 60 Government agencies.

The 3D upgrade will not only allow users to access the Government’s wealth of geo-spatial data, but also to contribute information, such as animal sightings, potential cycling hazards and even where one can find the best nasi lemak.

Virtual Singapore creates a platform that “brings the Government, citizens, industry and research institutions together to solve problems”, said Mr Lee. It will also be a framework “for all of us to contribute (towards the Smart Nation vision)”, he added.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) is also working with industry players and other Government agencies to study digital infrastructure needed to support smart devices in HDB flats. Trials will start next year.

To enhance eldercare, the HDB is piloting the Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System sensors in 12 flats. The sensors monitor the movements of the elderly folks in the flats, and alert family members when they detect anything unusual.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore are also evaluating a tele-rehabilitation system with community hospitals, which allows therapists to monitor their patients’ progress remotely.


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