Best of our wild blogs: 21 Dec 14

Night Walk At Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (19 Dec 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Butterfly of the Month - December 2014
from Butterflies of Singapore

Return to Mandai mangroves
from wild shores of singapore

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Extreme weather, rising sea levels among future environmental challenges

Channel NewsAsia 20 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE: After the prolonged dry spell in 2014, a water-rationing exercise could be on the cards in 2015 to educate the public on how to save water, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia.

He said the dry spell and rising sea levels serve as a warning of extreme weather in the future, which Singapore needs to be prepared for.

In February 2014, Singapore faced the its driest month in 145 years, which led to blistering weather, parched landscapes as well as an increase in the demand for water.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore saw through the period thanks to decades of investment in infrastructure, such as desalination plants, and in technology such as NEWater. Going forward, the Ministry is reviewing its current infrastructure of reservoirs and storage capacities, and could roll out more desalination plants.

But water demand needs to be managed. "I'm still contemplating when or how we should embark on a public education campaign, perhaps with a water rationing exercise - not because we are desperately short but because we have to make the point that we do need to be prepared and if we do need to reduce water consumption, how does it affect our daily lives,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

“So that's something we may need to think about next year and perhaps the best time to do that is precisely at the time when there isn't a dry spell."

From June 2015, large commercial water users will have to submit to PUB their plans to use water more efficiently. Dr Balakrishnan said once the companies and the authorities can get a sense of "what works and what does not", the plan could be rolled out to smaller non-domestic consumers.

The dry spell also brought haze to the region earlier. Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore was spared the brunt of it because of several factors - from favourable wind direction to the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. Under the Act, errant companies could be fined up to S$2 million should the haze hit "unhealthy levels".

Turning to another perennial problem - dengue - Dr Balakrishnan warned that the virus could take on a new form. “After having two years of predominantly dengue type 1, we know from past experience, when there is a subsequent serotype switch in a year or two or even three years from now, there is the danger of another rebound epidemic, so dengue will keep us occupied,” he said.

“We are also studying the possibility of using a special strain of mosquitoes with Wolbachia infection in order to try to reduce the population of mosquitoes. If we are convinced that it is safe, then it is possible that sometime next year, we can embark on field trials."

In late 2014, the government released the second Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which charts the environmental vision for the next five years. It includes reducing the reliance on private transportation as well as improving Singapore's recycling rate. Dr Balakrishnan said food recycling is a key focus going forward, as it currently stands at a lowly 13 per cent.

Globally, the international community is grappling with climate change. Sea levels are projected to rise between about 28 and 98 centimetres by 2100, which could prove to be catastrophic for countries with coastal, low-lying areas if they are not prepared. To guard against this, reclaimed land in Singapore has to be 2.25 metres above the highest recorded tide level. Previously, the minimum requirement was 1.25 metres.

This will affect the land where Changi Airport's new Terminal 5 will be located. The terminal will be built on an existing plot of reclaimed land measuring some 1,000 hectares. Channel NewsAsia understands parts of the land do not meet the 2.25-metre criteria. The Ministry of Transport says they will have to be topped up.

"The airport will be safe enough from future sea level rise, but this doesn't take into account other factors,” said Dr Wong Poh Poh, coordinating lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “What if there were to be an extreme high tide that coincides with storm surges? Anything can happen. You must always remember that tsunamis can happen in this part of the world."

Dr Wong said solutions can be found in the eco-system. Coral reefs have been found to reduce energy produced by waves by up to 80 per cent and mangroves can be grown to protect shorelines. Dr Wong said ideal locations for mangroves can be in the waters around Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong and Singapore's southern islands.

- CNA/ec

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Malaysia: Cage farming trend is in

The Star 21 Dec 14;

LANGKAWI: The demand for seafood is expected to rise in tandem with the increase in world population.

World Fish Centre, an international research organisation, re­­ported that the world fisheries output amounted to 160 million metric tonnes per annum and the demand was expected to reach 238 million metric tonnes per annum in the next 15 years.

However, it may not be possible to meet the demand as marine resources are increasingly being depleted due to large-scale fishing using technology and giant nets. Fishermen worldwide are already seeing their catch decreasing.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) anticipates that if the large-scale fishing continues, the world’s fishery resources will be depleted by 2030.

However, many nations are trying to reverse this trend. And one country in the forefront is Norway, which boasts a successful salmon cage farming industry.

Norway is today the biggest salmon exporter and has proven to the world that high technology marine fish culture is the best way forward in reversing the depletion of fishery resources.

And Malaysia is not far behind in addressing the problem. The marine fish culture using the open sea cage farming method at Pulau Simpang Tiga in Langkawi is a pri­vate undertaking led by Aquagrow Corporation.

Its CEO Mohamed Razali Moha­med (pic) said the company applied the same techniques used in Norway in its operation which started three years ago.

LANGKAWI, 19 Dis -- Ketua Pegawai Eksekutif Aquagrow Corporation Sdn Bhd, Mohamed Razali Mohamed.--fotoBERNAMA (2014) HAKCIPTA TERPELIHARA.

Under the cooperation between the Fisheries Department and the Norway government, fish cages made from high-density polyethy­lene (HDPE), are brought in from Norway. So far, there are 18 HDPE cages being used to breed Crimson Snapper (Ikan Merah), Barramundi (Siakap), and two types of groupers – Tiger Grouper (Kerapu Hari­mau) and Grouper Spp (Kerapu Kertang).

Each cage could accommodate 40,000 fishes weighing up to a kilogramme each, he told Bernama during a visit to the marine culture site recently.

“This big scale venture involves a minimum capital of RM20mil. A huge investment means lesser production cost and higher efficiency.

“This is important in keeping up with countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia that are far ahead in marine fish culture,” Mohamed Razali said.

Before the fish are released into cages placed in the open sea, the fish eggs are hatched at the incubator nursery centre in Bukit Malut.

The Integrated Aquaculture Intelligent Solution (IAIS) currently being applied in Norway and Scotland is applied here. The IAIS technology measures multiple parameters – oxygen content in the water, sea current strength, pH value and temperature.

“Maintaining the correct para­meters during the initial stages is crucial to allow the fish fry to grow fast,” he said.

When the fries are one month old, they will be transferred to a nursery and fed with food pellets for two months until they reach 4cm.

They will then be transferred to the HDPE cages and fed with pellets until they reach the re­­quired size to be marketed locally and overseas.

The fishes are now exported to Singapore, Hong Kong and China while the processed fish fillet are exported to Australia, Europe and the United States.

“We produced 150 tonnes this year and we plan to produce 500 tonnes next year. We have set the target that by 2017, Langkawi will be able to produce 1,500 tonnes of fish,” he said.

Apart from Langkawi, Aqua­grow also introduced the cage system in Tok Bali, Kelantan, last year and the next location will be Pulau Perhentian off Terengganu.

“We are producing good quality fish that meet the taste of foreign markets. Local entrepreneurs should capitalise on cage farming so that the industry worth billions of ringgit keeps expanding.

“If more entrepreneurs venture into this cage farming, we could create more local experts in the fisheries industry that is now de­­pendent on foreign expertise,” said Mohamed Razali whose em­­ployees come from Australia, the Philippines, France, and Vietnam.

“Apart from that, if the industry expands, the cages will become cheaper, the fish processing centres will increase and more people will be able to afford fish bred through this method.”

To generate more entrepreneurs in the fishing industry, Aquagrow has made training new entrepreneurs as its corporate social responsibility.

The entrepreneur training programme is expected to start early next year with six local entrepreneurs from Langkawi.

They will be trained on the cage farming method in open sea. When the fry grow to the required size, Aquagrow will buy and market the fish.

“We will train them until they acquire all the skills,” Mohamed Razali said.

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Malaysia: Kelantan floods worst in a decade, say authorities

SYED AZHAR The Star 21 Dec 14;

KOTA BARU: Authorities said the floods in Kelantan are the worst of the past decade after rain fell continuously for more than 12 hours Saturday, swelling the number of flood victims at relief centres state-wide to almost 20,000.

"I was told this is the worst flood season over a ten year period. Luckily the authorities are ready to serve the 20,000 people seeking refuge at the relief centers" said Local Government, Housing, Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Abdul Fattah Mahmood.

Heavy rain that started at 3am on Saturday worsened the flood situation.

The official Kelantan flood portal at reported that Pasir Mas, especially Rantau Panjang town, had been crippled by floods since Wednesday.

A total of 11,184 people from 3,831 families have taken refuge at 37 relief centres as at 3pm on Saturday, up by more than 3,000 people from the day before.

Abdul Fattah said although there were 4,336 people from the various agencies on the ground assisting flood victims, there were a few grouses regarding the supply of food and other amenities.

He added that the authorities were doing their best to help the victims.

"There is enough food for flood victims but there have been complaints where food was slow to reach the victims.

"I have not seen so many evacuees at centres before, and food had to be airlifted to and dropped off at inaccessible areas.

"This situation is far from over as there will be continuous rain next week," he said.

Floods in Kelantan reach critical level, government clinics affected
PHUAH KEN LIN New Straits Times 20 Dec 14;

GEORGE TOWN: Two government clinics in Kelantan were submerged in waters up to chest level today as the flood crisis reaches a critical level in the state.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya said the two clinics were located in the Rantau Panjang area.

He said the flood situation worsened and raised his concern about deteriorating hygiene in flood-hit suburbs.

"No one, especially children, should be allowed to play in the murky flood water as chances are the water is contaminated with harmful bacteria that pose a threat to human.

"Health officers will visit the two clinics next Monday and I will be there.

"We will deploy more doctors and nurses to attend to displaced people if more of them are found to have fallen sick," Dr Hilmi said after handing over school uniform to some 400 recipients at SMK Seri Balik Pulau.

It was reported that the flood situation in Kelantan had worsened with the number of people displaced increased to 19,715 as at noon today.

Four people have died due to floods in Kelantan, with one each in Tanah Merah, Tumpat, Kuala Krai and Kota Baru since the second wave of floods inundated the state on Dec 16.

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Best of our wild blogs: 20 Dec 14

Trekking From USR Park to Bukit Panjang
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Morning Walk At Upper Pierce Reservoir (18 Dec 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Pedal Ubin on Ubin day (30 November 2014)
from Toddycats!

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Malaysia: Johor latest to be hit by flood

SIM BAK HENG New Straits Times 19 Dec 14;

JOHOR BARU: Flood has worsened at the east coast of Johor in the afternoon, with 355 villagers from three villages relocated to three relief centres in Endau, an east coast town of Johor, as of 8pm.

The villagers are 18 from three families in Kampung Air Tawar, 84 from 18 families in Kampung Tenglu and 253 from 74 families in Kamping Sri Pantai.

They have been evacuated to the flood relief centres in SK Air Tawar, SK Tenglu and SK Sri Pantai respectively.

Information from the Johor police revealed that the number of flood victims are 355 at present.

This morning, only six villagers from three families in Kampung Air Tawar and 11 villagers from Kampung Tenglu in Endau near the Johor/Pahang border were affected after their homes were hit with flood waters measuring 1.5 metre deep.

Johor Environment and Health Executive Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the affected villagers are those staying at low-lying areas which are prone to flooding.

Non-stop rain forces 300 to evacuate villages in Johor
The Star 20 Dec 14;

MERSING: Continuous rainfall in several villages here since yesterday has forced more than 300 villagers out of their homes and raised concerns that the evacuation exercise will take longer than expected.

The affected villagers are from Kampung Che Wook (250 victims), Kampung Tenglu (49) and Kampung Air Tawar (six).

They are currently seeking shelter at relief centres set up at three schools – SK Sri Pantai, SK Tenglu and SK Air Tawar.

Heavy rain started to fall at 9am and caused water levels to rise quickly with many villagers moving out to relief centres on their own.

Mersing OCPD Deputy Supt Mohamed Shahar Abdul Aziz said all the flood victims were in good shape at the relief centres.

“The authorities have taken several precautionary measures in anticipation of the floods,” he said.

A Johor Fire and Rescue Depart­ment spokesman said the Mersing and Endau fire stations were on standby if conditions got worse.

“The department has instructed both stations to be on alert,” he said.

He added that assets from other districts may be deployed if the situation did not improve.

Heavy rain hits Pahang, Johor
New Straits Times 20 Dec 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: THE floods in three east coast states are heading for the southern part of the country as heavy rains begin to lash southeastern Pahang and Johor.

The Meteorological Department forecasted intense downpours for Pekan and Rompin in Pahang towards the end of the month.

The same situation was expected to occur in Kluang and Kota Tinggi in Johor next month.

One or two continuous rain cycles in these areas could last up to five days.

The flood in Kelantan, which has seen four lives lost up until yesterday, had the highest number of evacuees with 14,508 people evacuated, despite the flood easing in several districts. A total of 17,185 people from 4,724 families were evacuated in the east coast.

National Security Council (NSC) secretary Datuk Mohd Tajuddin Abdul Wahab said residents in
Tumpat were told to prepare themselves as the district was expected to experience a longer duration of flood.

The border town of Rantau Panjang, which is usually bustling this time of year, came to a standstill after traders packed up their wares to place them on higher ground.

Residents said the flood was the worst in 40 years as Sungai Golok overflowed and inundated the town in 4m-deep waters.

Meteorological Department commercial and corporate services division director Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip said Kelantan and Terengganu were at the peak of the monsoon season.

He said last year, the two states received an average of 300 millimetres of rain per hour (mm/h) but this year it surged to 600mm/h.

“Residents in flood-prone areas should be extra cautious as heavy rain is expected to continue until the end of this month,” he told the New Straits Times.

Hisham confirmed that Pahang was expected to experience heavy rain starting in the next few weeks while Johor would experience the same early next month.

He said the rainfall intensity in Pahang and Johor was expected to reach 600mm/h, which was less than last year’s figure of 1,000mm/h.

He said the monsoon season that began in November may end in early March with Sarawak expected to be the last state hit by heavy rain.

Johor Environment and Health Committee chairman, Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the state government had learnt from the floods in 2006 and 2007 in Kota Tinggi, and was prepared.

He said agencies had mobilised its resources since September in light of deteriorating weather.

He said Johor’s flood control mechanism had improved in preparation for unexpected weather over the years.

In Pahang, there was a decrease in the number of flood victims from 1,586 to 1,556 people at noon.

In Terengganu, there were
evacuees in Hulu Terengganu (3,066), Besut (2,232), Setiu (1,904) and in Kemaman (946) and Dungun (950). In Johor, 355 people from
two villages in Endau were evacuated.

Tajuddin said the NSC was seeking help from Pahang, Selangor, Malacca and Perak to prepare truck, boats and helicopters to
send goods to villages affected by flood.

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In Indonesia, Natural Disasters Are a Security Concern

‘Crucial Importance’ Incidents such as the recent Banjarnegara landslide are more than just humanitarian and economic calamities
Bantarto Bandoro Jakarta Globe 18 Dec 14;

Heavy rain has triggered many catastrophes that cannot be addressed by one party alone. What we saw in Jemblung in Central Java’s Banjarnegara district is a fatal landslide, evidence that humans cannot resist the forces of the nature. This is one of the worst landslide disasters recorded in Indonesia in recent years.

The landslide claimed the lives of nearly 80 people, while dozens remain missing. Around 570 people have also been displaced from their homes.

Local infrastructure was badly damaged in the landslide, preventing rescue teams from reaching certain areas.

Economic activities have also been interrupted as many lost their workplaces and livelihood.

The Banjarnegara landslide highlights the country’s vulnerability to disasters as well the government’s slow reaction, if not total inability, to effectively deal with such chronic catastrophes.

The media has reported the landslide comprehensively and no day passed without discussion of the event.

A Jakarta Globe story published earlier this week titled “Most of Indonesia at risk of landslide,” says among other things that around 9 percent of the country’s 250 million people live in an area at very high risk of natural disaster.

This suggests that Indonesia’s government must consider disasters, be it landslides, heavy floods or earthquakes, from a much more comprehensive perspective. The response of the government in addressing these disasters must make full use of all resources available.

Indonesia has experienced natural disasters from minor floods to devastating tsunamis. In response to the vulnerabilities and risk of disasters, a presidential decree established the Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency (known as BNPB) in 2008.

The existence of BNPB is necessary to help the government respond to national disasters, but it alone is not sufficient to manage and address the widespread impact of future disasters the country will certainly face.

It is not clear if the government’s security planners consider disasters from a comprehensive perspective of national security.

The government in Jakarta tends to responds to natural disasters with actions framed as disaster relief and assistance, rather than through a security lens.

Armed conflict, war or trafficking of small arms and light weapons, to mention just a few, are some of the conventional security hazards constantly reviewed by the security planners to update preventive steps for the security of the nations.

On the contrary, several non-traditional security threats, that can have as disastrous an impact on human security as the more conventional threats, are often overlooked by the agency concerned.

Some of these non-traditional security threats to Indonesia such as flooding, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis and the recent landslides highlight the need for the government of President Joko Widodo to frame the response through a security lens.

Human vulnerability — especially to natural disasters — must be part of the nation’s security agenda.

The devastating Banjarnegara landslide should not be seen as merely the BNPB’s business. How other government agencies respond to environmental threats and disasters is a key issue and how the response is securitized is of crucial importance.

Because Indonesia has many areas that are prone to natural disasters, it is perhaps not an exaggeration if the government reveals elements of securitization such as landslides identified as existing threats; a multiplicity of securitizing actors, such as the BNPB and other disaster-related government agencies; and the complexity of various agencies — both central and local government.

Thus, when the landslide drew a large number of rescue teams dispatched by various national agencies, the securitization of the landslide conformed to the particular “logic of security” found in security studies, but separated it from a singular type of actor and threat, as is usually found in traditional security issues.

Landslides and other forms of natural disasters can be perceived as threats to human security and the environment, as well as other aspects of national security. The BNPB and the government agencies, such as the military, National Police, and the coordinating office for law, politics and security, are the securitizing actors that play central roles in mitigating the security impact of landslides.

When President Joko Widodo visited the site he was reported as saying the landslides should provide lessons for us on the importance of a balanced environment, suggesting blame on those who convert lands into farms.

The government’s short- and long-term response to the landslide should not only target rebuilding a balanced environment, or only be based on disaster-relief considerations.

Given the severe casualties in landslides, it is not wrong to suggest that Joko should start framing his government’s policy response through a security lens.

When his responses are securitized, the presidential communication would focus on non-traditional security concerns such as human or environmental security issues.

This suggests that, for natural disaster response such as the recent landslide, human security and other aspects of this should significantly influence the framing of the issue at the presidential level.

Bantaro Bandoro is a senior lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University’s School of Defense Strategy, in Sentul, Bogor

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Major coral bleaching in Pacific may become worst die-off in 20 years, say experts

Warm sea temperatures are causing massive coral reef die-off across the Northern Pacific in what could be the start of an historic bleaching event around the world
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 19 Dec 14;

Scientists warn extreme sea temperatures could cause a “historic” coral reef die-off around the world over the coming months, following a massive coral bleaching already underway in the North Pacific. Experts said the coral die-off could be the worst in nearly two decades.

Reports of severe bleaching have been accumulating in the inbox of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch programme since July.

A huge swathe of the Pacific has already been affected, including the Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Kiribati and Florida. Some areas have recorded serious bleaching for the first time.

“On a global scale it’s a major bleaching event. What it may be is the beginning of a historic event,” said Coral Reef Watch coordinator Dr Mark Eakin.

In the Marshall Islands, bleaching of unprecedented severity is suspected to have hit most of the country’s 34 atolls and islands. The Guardian witnessed devastated expanses of coral that look like forests covered with snow.

Warm water will soon begin hitting reefs in the southern Pacific and the Indian Ocean as the seasons and currents shift. Eakin said coral watch modelling predicts bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as early as January.

Bleaching is caused by persistent increases in sea surface temperature. Just 1C of warming lasting a week or more can be enough to cause long-term breakdown of reef ecosystems.

The worst coral bleaching event on record is a mass die-off during 1998. A massive El Niño event combined with climate change to raise global sea and air temperatures to never-before-recorded levels and killed around 15% of the world’s corals.

2014 has already surpassed 1998 as the hottest year recorded - with a mild El Niño still predicted in the new year.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a coral reef expert from the University of Queensland, said the current bleaching event was on track to be as bad or worse than 1998.

“Many coral reef scientists are expecting something similar to 1997-98 to unfold in the next six to 12 months.”

Eakin said even under a weak El Niño, bleaching could continue until 2016 – lasting twice as long as the 1998 event. High sea surface temperatures due to climate change are making El Niño a less decisive factor in coral bleaching.

“Despite the fact that there’s really not a big El Niño, we’re seeing these patterns of severe bleaching. So what’s happening is, as global temperatures increase and especially as the ocean warms through the increase of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases in the atmosphere, it’s warming the ocean so that it doesn’t take as big an El Niño to have the same effect on water temperatures,” said Eakin.

Initial analysis of the Guardian’s photos from the Marshallese atoll of Arno showed its reefs could be added to the fast-growing list of seriously affected places. In less extreme temperatures bleached coral may not die completely.

But Karl Fellenius, a coral reef manager from the University of Hawaii said that in the Marshall Islands “it’s looking like the thermal stress was so profound that the corals died within days of getting bleached”.

This does not augur well for the future of the world’s reefs under climate change.

“The real problem is that recovery from a major bleaching event can take decades and these events keep coming back every 10 years or less… [Reefs] just don’t have time to recover,” said Eakin.

The combined effect of rising temperatures and sea levels – corals can only survive near the surface – could mean the end for coral reefs in the next 50 years even if world leaders combine to keep global temperature rise below their target of 2C, said Hoegh-Guldberg, who was lead oceans author for the UN’s definitive climate science report.

“Temperatures projected under even mild climate change scenarios may be too damaging to coral reefs for them to survive beyond the mid to late part of this century.”

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Best of our wild blogs: 19 Dec 14

Wild Otter sighting in Botanical Gardens!
from My Nature Experiences

Dirty Demons and Delicate Crabs
from Hantu Blog

Singapore Bird Report – November 2014
from Singapore Bird Group

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Malaysia: A five-fold rise in disaster victims

RAHIMY RAHIM The Star 18 Dec 14;

GOMBAK: More than half a million Malaysians were affected by disasters in the past 10 years, according to the World Disasters Report 2014.

This represented a five-fold increase from 103,168 people between 1994 and 2003 to 532,851 people between 2004 and 2013.

However, the report, Focus on Culture and Risk, noted that the number of people killed in the country due to disasters decreased from 660 to 310. It revealed that floods, which accounted for 44% of deaths, were the most frequent natural disasters in the world last year. Storms, which caused 41% of deaths, were the second.

The two deadliest natural disasters last year were Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in November and killed 7,986 people, and a flood caused by monsoon rain that claimed 6,054 lives in India.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Asia-Pacific zone director Jagan Chapagain said Malaysia was lucky that it was not situated in a disaster-prone area, as almost 90% of natural disasters happened in the region.

“Malaysia can play a big role in supporting other South-East Asian countries as it assumes the chairmanship of Asean in 2015,” he told a press conference at the International Islamic University Malaysia here after releasing the report.

“I hope that it can show huge leadership to neighbouring countries as it also holds a seat in the United Nations Security Council in handling and coordinating humanitarian aid during natural disasters.”

He said international aid agencies should consult local communities hit by natural disasters before introducing any development or humanitarian aid programme.

“We always get feedback from the community first as we want to be accountable and we want to change the hand-out mentality to the empowerment mindset,” Chapagain added.

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UN sends team to clean up Sunderbans oil spill in Bangladesh

Thick tar clogging 350 sq km of delicate mangrove forest and river delta, home to endangered Bengal tigers and rare dolphins

Agence France-Presse The Guardian 18 Dec 14;

The United Nations said on Thursday it has sent a team of international experts to Bangladesh to help clean up the world’s largest mangrove forest, more than a week after it was hit by a huge oil spill.

Thousands of litres of oil have spilt into the protected Sundarbans mangrove area, home to rare Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins, after a tanker collided with another vessel last Tuesday.

A team from the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) has arrived in the capital Dhaka to support Bangladesh’s “cleanup efforts of the oil spill in the Sundarbans”, a statement from the UN said.

Experts have slammed authorities for failing to organise a proper clean-up effort of the oil spill, which has now spread 350 sq km (135 sq m) inside the delicate mangrove forest area.

Until now, the forest department was relying on villagers and fishermen to scoop up the thick tar from the water and river banks with sponges and pans.

The UN team, sent in response to a request from Bangladesh, will help in the ground work in coordination with the government and will also conduct an assessment and advise on recovery and risk reduction measures.

The European Union and United States, Britain and France are supporting the UN effort.

The UN expressed concern over the disaster, urging Dhaka to impose a “complete ban” on the movement of commercial vessels through the 10,000 sq km ( 3,850 sq m) forest that straddles the border between Bangladesh and India and is home to a number of rare animals including the endangered Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins.

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Tropical deforestation threatens global food production

Chris Arsenault, Reuters Yahoo News 18 Dec 14;

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tropical deforestation in the southern hemisphere is accelerating global warming and threatening world food production by distorting rainfall patterns across Europe, China and the U.S. Midwest, a study released on Thursday said.

By 2050, deforestation could lead to a 15 percent drop in rainfall in tropical regions including the South American Amazon, Southeast Asia and Central Africa, the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change said.

Much of the logging taking place is to clear land for agriculture. This can cause a vicious cycle, increasing global warming, lowering food production on farms which in turn leads to growers cutting down more trees for farmland, experts say.

"When you deforest the tropics, those regions will experience significant warming and the biggest drying," Deborah Lawrence, a University of Virginia professor and the study's lead author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Removing trees and planting crops releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. At the same time, deforested areas are also less able to retain moisture, immediately altering local weather patterns.

The study said if current deforestation rates persist in South America's Amazon rainforest, the region's soy production could fall by 25 percent by 2050.

Logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Thailand could also have consequences in other parts of the world, leading to more rainfall in Britain and Hawaii and less rainfall in southern France and the U.S. Midwest region, the study said.

Globally, levels of deforestation are increasing slowly, Lawrence said.

Brazil has brought rates down in a "wonderful success story", she said, while the situation in Indonesia's tropical forests has worsened.

Complete tropical deforestation could lead to a 0.7 degree rise in world temperatures, on top of the impact from greenhouse gases, doubling global warming since 1850.

"Tropical forests are often talked about as the 'lungs of the earth,' but they're more like the sweat glands," said Lawrence.

"They give off a lot of moisture, which helps keep the planet cool. That crucial function is lost – and even reversed – when forests are destroyed," she added.

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault)

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