3 months' jail for man who smuggled birds into Singapore

Channel NewsAsia 27 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: A 29-year-old Singaporean man was sentenced to three months’ jail on Thursday (Oct 27) for illegally importing three Red-whiskered Bulbul birds. Muhammad Farhan Abdullah was also given three months' jail for subjecting them to unnecessary suffering or pain.

Both sentences will run concurrently.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) alerted the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to the case in June, after officers discovered three live birds in the man's car at the Woodlands Checkpoint.

In a joint media release on Thursday, AVA and ICA said the birds were found hidden inside three small boxes beneath the carpet of the front passenger seat, as well as under the rear passenger seats of the Singapore-registered car.

Following investigations, AVA confirmed the Red-whiskered Bulbul birds were imported without an AVA permit. The birds were also tested and found to be free from avian influenza, and have been successfully rehomed at Jurong Bird Park, added AVA.

“Animals that are smuggled into Singapore are of unknown health status and may introduce exotic diseases into the country,” said AVA. Offenders who import any animals or live birds without an AVA permit are liable to the maximum penalty of S$10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to a year.

- CNA/xk

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Malaysia: Levels at Kedah's main dams at just 37 per cent; Mada to initiate cloud seeding

EMBUN MAJID New Straits Times 27 Oct 16;

ALOR STAR: The Muda Agriculture Development Authority (Mada) will use cloud seeding to fill the Pedu, Muda and Ahning dams in the state, where water levels are rapidly dwindling.

Mada general manager Fouzi Ali said the method was agreed upon with the Agriculture and Agro-Based Ministry after a visit to the dam with its minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek on Wednesday.

Fouzi said as of 8am today, the water level at Pedu dam is at 83.55 metres, with reservoir percentage at 33.84; while water levels at Muda dam is at 91.44 metres, or 29.6 per cent; and Ahning at 100.96 metres, or 58.83 per cent.

According to Fouzi, total water volume at the three dams is at 37.59 percent, which is lower compared to the same period last year.

“The low water level at the three reservoirs is due to less rain at water catchment areas,” he said. Fouzi added that cloud seeding at catchment areas will be done with cooperation from the Malaysian Meteorological Department soon and be carried out until the middle of next month.

He added that the cost for the operation will be about RM400,000.

Fouzi hastened to add, however, that the low water levels at the dams will not affect paddy cultivating activities in the state for the second season of 2016 that has just started.

“We hope paddy farmers will abide by the paddy-planting schedule for the second season and not waste the water supply,” he said.

The Pedu and Muda dams provide water for agriculture usage, while the Ahning dam is used by domestic consumers.

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Malaysia: Sg Semenyih pollution crisis -- Tests reveal presence of poison

FERNANDO FONG New Straits Times 27 Oct 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Selangor executive councillor for Tourism, Environment, Green Technology and Consumer Affairs Elizabeth Wong said the pollution level of Sungai Buah, Negri Sembilan, remains critical.

She said water samples taken from the river, which flows into the Sungai Semenyih Water Treatment Plant, contains the toxic 4-bromodiphenyl etherwater.

“We have already received expert advice on the content of the poison,” Wong told reporters when met at the Parliament lobby here today.

"The water samples emit an unpleasant odour with a Threshold Odour Number (TON) of four, which means the water must be treated,” Wong said, adding that dead fish were also found in the water where the samples were taken.

TON is the dilution ratio at which odour is detectable. "The water samples were submitted to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar,” said the Bukit Lanjan assemblyman, adding that the Negri Sembilan Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, has been notified about it.

Additionally, a police report was also made on Sunday. "Presently, the water is being pumped out into retention ponds to prevent it from contaminating the water supply for public use,” she added.

Previously, Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali said that five meter-high walls will be built by Pengurusan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd at Sungai Buah to block the flow of polluted water into Sungai Semenyih.

The move is to ensure that the Sungai Semenyih Water Treatment Plant can operate as usual. Azmin noted that the pollution had interrupted water supply to 360,000 account holders in Selangor.

Sungai Buah still contaminated and poses serious health threat
MARTIN CARVALHO The Star 27 Oct 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Sungai Buah in Nilai which flows into Sungai Semenyih is still contaminated with a highly poisonous substance, 4-Bromo Diphenyl Ether, forcing the Selangor government to disrupt water supply for the third time this month.

"It is highly poisonous and that is why dead fish were found floating nearby," said Elizabeth Wong, executive councillor for tourism, environment, green technology and consumer affairs.

She said the contamination posed a serious health threat and the source of the contamination was a drainage system in Sungai Buah in Nilai, Negri Sembilan which flowed into Sungai Semenyih.

"It is not the smell that is the only concern but the pollutant which is causing it.

"Analysis by the Selangor Water Management Board (Luas) identified the substance as 4-Bromo Diphenyl Ether,” Wong told reporters after attending a Special Chambers proceedings in Parliament here.

She said water samples taken from Sungai Buah still emit a strong smell which had to be diluted four times for it to be odour free while water at the source of contamination in Nilai had to be diluted 20 times.

Wong said the pollutant is suspected to have been deliberately dumped into the drainage system near the Elite Highway.

She said the Selangor government had requested the Department of Environment (DOE) in Negri Sembilan to pump out the contaminated water from the river there and store it in bunds.

"The water is not to be used but will be stored at the bunds and treated with enzymes," she said.

Wong said Luas lodged a police report last Sunday on alleged sabotage of the water supply and handed over a sample of the water to the federal DOE.

The Sungai Semenyih Water Treatment Plant was forced to close temporarily on several occasions since September following contamination at Sungai Semenyih.

Sources of the pollution had been identified to come from an industrial site in Semenyih, including Sungai Langat, which gets water from Pahang.

The closures caused water disruptions that have affected over a million residents in the Klang Valley.

Water supply to USJ, Puchong to be fully restored by Oct 29
The Star 27 Oct 16;

PETALING JAYA: Water supply to USJ and Bandar Puteri Puchong areas will be fully restored by Oct 29, says Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas).

It said relief water supply will continue to be delivered by 14 water tankers and supported by four jumbo water tankers at filling stations in the two areas.

An additional six water tankers will be mobilized on Oct 28.

Syabas said in a statement on Thursday that several areas in USJ, Subang Jaya, Bandar Puteri Puchong and Puchong have been experiencing water disruptions since Oct 24 following a 30-hour shutdown of the Semenyih water treatment plant “due to odour pollution” in Sungai Buah in Nilai which flows into Sungai Semenyih.

“When the water treatment plant resumed operations, demand for water increased four folds to fill up service reservoirs, premises’ storage tanks, distribution pipes and ‘panic’ storage by consumers,” said Syabas.

It said water supply for USJ and Bandar Puteri Puchong under Zone 2 will be extended and restored in stages.

The Kuala Langat and Sepang Districts under Zone 2 have fully recovered, while the Zone 2 in Hulu Langat and Petaling Districts registered 98% and 80% recovery.

The public can receive updates from Syabas by using the “mySYABAS” mobile application, or by visiting their website at ww.syabas.com.my.

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Malaysia: ‘Let us better manage peatlands’

THO XIN YI The Star 28 Oct 16;

PETALING JAYA: International researchers and environmental NGOs are calling for better management of tropical peatland.

Following the 15th Inter-national Peat Congress in Kuching in August, 139 representatives of various institutions from 20 countries have come together to raise their concerns over the environmental impact of agricultural conversion of tropical peat.

In a letter to be published in an environmental science journal Global Change Biology, they claim that contemporary agricultural techniques on peatland – for land clearance, drainage and fertilisation – have significantly impacted the ecosystem.

In Sarawak, peatland is drained and converted into oil palm plantations. It was reported that 400,000ha out of 1.4 million hectares of oil palm plantations are on peatland.

Citing scientific studies, the letter says the carbon stored in drained peatland is lost through oxidation, dissolution and fire. The drained coastal peatland, it adds, also risks getting untenable with the intrusion of saltwater.

“The search for more responsible tropical peatland agriculture techniques includes promising recent initiatives to develop methods to cultivate crops on peat under wet conditions.

“While a truly sustainable peatland agriculture method does not yet exist, the scientific community and industry are collaborating in the search for solutions, and for interim measures to mitigate ongoing rates of peat loss under existing plantations,” it reads.

In a written reply to The Star, Malaysian Peat Society president Frederick Haili Teck disagreed with the claims in the letter, which he said “portray the oil palm plantations as the woes of tropical peatland”.

Malaysia, he says, has a long history of oil palm research and development and has been improving soil management since the 1920s.

“It is a key reason for Malaysia’s success in competing with other vegetable oil crops today.

“In fact, strong scientific and commercial evidences were provided at the congress that better peatland management has raised oil palm yields to similar or above those on suitable mineral soils, particularly after the first-generation planting,” he said.

He also stressed that only 27.5% of peatland in Malaysia was allowed to be used for oil palm cultivation.

“Malaysia has reached the target for this soil type and does not give out further concessions for oil palm,” he said.

Frederick dismissed the claim that oil palm on peatland is unsustainable as being “generalised, one-sided and inconclusive”.

“The implication of such a statement could be far-reaching as to disqualify the industry and deplete the livelihood of the communities concerned,” he added.

Debate rages over impact of tropical peat conversion
The Star 28 Oct 16;

PETALING JAYA: The environmental impact of agricultural conversion of tropical peat is a matter of intense debate.

Dr Reuben Clements, co-founder of Rimba, a non-profit research group registered in Malaysia, said the drainage and conversion of peatland to agriculture was largely responsible for forest fires that caused the annual haze.

“Research has shown that drained peatland will eventually sink below sea level and become flood-prone, so why establish plantations there anyway?” he said.

Rimba researcher Lahiru Wijedasa attended the recent peat congress in Kuching and is one of the authors of a joint letter calling for better management of tropical peatland.

Indonesia and Malaysia are among the world’s biggest palm oil producers and exporters, with Malaysia contributing to 39% of world palm oil production and 44% of world exports.

Consultant geologist Dr Paramananthan Selliah agreed that coastal peatland risked becoming unsustainable when drained and subsided below sea level.

However, he challenged the view that rapid loss of carbon is the primary concern of agriculture on peatland, adding that peat swamp emitted methane when it was under water.

“Methane is 18 times more detrimental than carbon dioxide for global warming, and if someone carelessly throws a cigarette butt during a prolonged dry period, it can cause a peat fire. So why blame it on oil palm?” he said.

On holding the conversion of peatland to agriculture responsible for forest fires, Dr Paramananthan said the annual haze resulted from all burning and not only peat fires.

A no-burn policy was practised by plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, he added, not discounting the possibility of unscrupulous planters who burned to clear their land to save costs.

He felt Malaysia needed to have a think-tank of qualified experts who could quickly respond to allegations.

He added that people should also not simply accept “half-truths” by NGOs that were largely funded by producers of other vegetable oil crops such as soyabean and rapeseed – the competitor to oil palm.

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Indonesia: W. Kalimantan authorities foil attempt to smuggle pangolins to China

Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 27 Oct 16;

Security authorities in West Kalimantan have confiscated 40 scaly anteaters, locally known as trenggiling, from a suspect who attempted to smuggle them to China.

The Pontianak Environment and Forestry Agency’s security and law enforcement office revealed that the anteaters, weighing between 2 and 9.5 kilograms each, or around 200 kilograms in total, had been skinned. They were packed into plastic bags and stored at a cooler facility.

During the raid on Wednesday, authorities also confiscated one living scaly anteater weighing around 2 kilograms and a mouse deer that had been skinned.

The office’s head, David Muhammad, said the smuggling attempt was committed by a wildlife trade syndicate. David said the syndicate was significant because it could collect animals from areas across West Kalimantan and sell them to customers in China either via Jakarta or Sarawak, Malaysia.

“Scaly anteaters sell at high prices because it is believed that their meat can strengthen vitality and the scales are used for raw materials in cosmetics and drugs,” said David on Thursday.

Authorities have named a 34-year-old woman, identified by the initials LN, a suspect, and a man, identified as AB, 50, as a witness.

Scaly anteater meat is usually sold for around Rp 50,000 (US$3.84) per kilogram, and resold to customers abroad for Rp 300,000 per kilogram. For the scales, hunters can sell them for Rp 500,000 per kilogram domestically, and Rp 2 million per kilogram abroad. (ebf)

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Indonesia Introduces New Finance Facility to Meet Paris Climate Agreement Goals

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 27 Oct 16;

Jakarta. A new facility has been introduced in Indonesia that will be used to promote economic development to stimulate green growth and improve rural livelihoods.

The Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility, consisting of a loan fund and a grant fund, aims to achieve climate targets set under the Paris Agreement. It will make public funding available to finance renewable energy production and sustainable landscape management.

"This ground-breaking and innovative financial platform, a world first, can transform the lives and livelihoods of millions of Indonesians in rural areas that deserve it the most," Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility steering committee chairman Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said in a statement on Wednesday (26/10).

Through sustainable production of agricultural commodities, the facility will scale up investment in renewable energy to assist the rural poor.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry fully backs the facility as it falls in line with Indonesia's sustainable development aspirations.

"The Indonesian government realizes that we can only achieve the sustainable development goals through holistic policies, such as integrated landscape management," Coordinating Economic Affairs Minister Darmin Nasution said. "The facility aims to improve smallholder productivity while at the same time conserving our natural environment."

Along with the facility's steering committee, French bank and financial services company BNP Paribas and multinational investment manager ADM Capital will manage the loan fund.

"By joining in a partnership with the Tropical Landscapes Financing Facility in the capacity of capital markets and structuring adviser, BNP Paribas will help create innovative and collaborative financing mechanisms to bring private capital at scale and with good governance and risk management principles to fund long-term sustainable development projects," BNP Paribas Indonesia chief executive Luc Cardyn said.

The facility's secretariat will be managed by the United Nations Environment Program.

"The facility will trigger progress across several sustainable development goals, including saving the climate, protecting biodiversity and fostering renewable energy," UN Assistant Secretary General Elliott Harris said.

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Vietnam to lose 39% of Delta area by 2100

VietNamNet Bridge 27 Oct 16;

Viet Nam will lose nearly 39 per cent of the total area of the MekongDelta – the biggest rice granary of the country if the sea level rises 100cm by the end of the century.

Localities of Hau Giang, Kien Giang, and Ca Mau are expected to suffer the most with inundated areas up to 80 per cent, 77 per cent and 58 percent respectively.

It was released following the 2016 Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Scenarios for Viet Nam and by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on Tuesday at a high-level meeting held in Ha Noi.

The scenario said about 16.8 per cent of the total area of the Hong (Red) River delta and 1.47 per cent of the total area of central coastal provinces were predicted to be inundated if the sea level rises 100cm by the end of the century.

In the Red River delta, rising sea levels would cause an area loss of 58 per cent in Nam Dinh Province and 51 per cent in Thai Binh Province.

Additionally, three islands of Van Don, Con Dao and Phu Quoc as well as Tri Ton Island and Luoi Liem Island of the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago were also facing severe flood risk, the scenario said.

Tran Thuc, deputy head of the consultancy board for Viet Nam’s National Committee on Climate Change, said data used to compile the 2016 scenario was updated until 2014.

Compared to previous scenarios, the 2016 scenario provided details of rising sea levels for 28 coastal provinces and Hoàng Sa (Paracel) Archipelago and Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago, he said.

The scenario also pointed out that geology changes and subsidence due to overexploitation of underground water were the two major reasons worsening flood risk for localities across the country, he said.

After the forecast was announced, the environment ministry ordered localities to improve their irrigation planning to adapt to rising sea levels and climate change.

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World body moves to curtail Japan's 'science' whaling

Channel NewsAsia 18 Oct 16;

PORTOROZ, Slovenia: The world's whaling watchdog moved on Thursday (Oct 27) to curtail Japan's annual whale hunt, conducted under scientific licence but blasted by critics as a commercial meat haul.

A resolution on "improving" the review of deadly research programmes, which Japan alone conducts, split the 70-year-old International Whaling Commission (IWC) into familiar camps - pro- and anti-whaling.

Just two days earlier, the pro camp defeated a bid to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, which had required 75 per cent of IWC member votes.

Thursday's resolution, however, needed a simple majority to pass. It garnered 34 "yes" votes to 17 cast by the camp that includes Japan and commercial whalers Norway and Iceland.

Championed by Australia and New Zealand, it will lead to the creation of a permanent "working group" to assist the IWC and its expert scientific committee to assess whaling programmes conducted in the name of science.

The outcome was hailed by conservation groups which accuse Japan of abusing an exemption for research hunts under a 30-year-old moratorium, which also allows controlled aboriginal subsistence whaling.

"Today's vote shrinks the ... loophole that Japan has exploited ever since the global moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect," said Kitty Block of the Humane Society International.

"In defiance of the ban, Japan has issued itself a license to kill more than 15,000 whales under the guise of science" since 1986.

Resolutions are not legally binding on members of the commission, which has no policing function and cannot impose penalties.

"We will abide by the convention itself," Japan's commissioner to the IWC, Joji Morishita told AFP after the vote, referring to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the IWC's founding document.

Japan's whaling is a deeply divisive and recurring quarrel at the IWC's biennial meetings.

Under the scientific exception, national governments determine their own catch limits and issue whaling permits.


In 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that permits issued by Japan were "not for purposes of scientific research" and instructed the country to halt its JARPA II programme.

Japan cancelled its 2014-15 hunt, only to resume it the following year under a new programme called NEWREP-A (New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean).

It killed 333 minke whales in the Southern Ocean that year - many of them pregnant, according to observers.

The Southern Ocean hosts one of two whale sanctuaries in the world.

The meat from Japan's hunts ends up on supermarket shelves and in restaurants, in line with an IWC stipulation that whales taken for research must be eaten.

Morishita defended Japan's whaling, insisting it was to gather science data, and did not violate the ICJ judgment.

In its ruling, "it is clear that the ICJ assumes there can be future research activities," the commissioner told fellow delegates.

"The ICJ also said ... that the use of lethal sampling per se is not unreasonable in relation to the research objectives."

But his New Zealand counterpart, Amy Laurenson, insisted that NEWREP-A was clearly "not in fact for purposes of scientific research. "Japan has still not justified the use of lethal sampling," she said.

Under the new resolution, a working group will be appointed to consider the reports of the IWC's scientific committee on all new, ongoing and completed scientific whaling programmes.

It will report to the commission, which will express itself on the validity of every programme.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare welcomed the move as a further obstacle to Japan "unilaterally" issuing its own permits.

"We all know that scientific whaling is sham science, and simply commercial whaling by another name," said the organisation's Matt Collis.

IWC members put their differences aside just long enough on Thursday to pass a separate resolution on trying to save the critically endangered vaquita - a small porpoise sometimes called Mexico's "panda of the sea".

There are fewer than 60 known individuals left in the Gulf of California, the vaquita's only home.

They perish in illegal nets used to catch totoaba, large fish whose swim bladders are believed in China to hold medicinal powers.

The vaquita decision urges IWC members to provide financial and technical assistance for Mexico to police a permanent gillnet ban, compensate affected fishers, and replace outdated fishing gear with safe alternatives.


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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Oct 16

Weekend of 05-06 Nov 2016: Clean & Green Singapore Carnival @ opposite Khatib MRT Station
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Hectare by hectare, an indigenous man reforested a jungle in Indonesia’s burned-out heartland

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Contracts awarded to 2 firms for Cross Island Line's site investigation works

Yuen Sin Straits Times 25 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE - The authorities have appointed two companies to conduct site investigation works to see if a train tunnel can be built under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) for the upcoming Cross Island Line.

This comes after nature groups had expressed worries about the environmental harm that can be caused by the construction and operation of an underground MRT line through Singapore's largest nature reserve.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has appointed Tritech Engineering & Testing (TET) (Singapore) and Ryobi Geotechnique International (Ryobi G) to carry out investigation works for the the alignment that shows the upcoming Cross Island Line cutting under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, it said in a press release on Tuesday (Oct 25).The tender to conduct these works was called in June 2016.

The site investigation works will start in December and are expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

The 50km Cross Island Line was first announced in 2013 as a link between Changi and Jurong. Preliminary plans showed it cutting through primary and secondary forests in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.

Nature groups reacted by raising concerns and suggested that the line be built along Lornie Road instead, in an alternate route that skirts around the reserve.

The LTA started an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of both routes in July 2014.

The findings of first phase of this assessment, which looked at the soil works and how to reduce their impact, was announced in February 2016. Some mitigating measures announced then include reducing the number of boreholes required for soil testing from 72 to 16, and to gather the data needed through geophysical surveys instead.

Geophysical survey methods require contractors to go off-trail into the forest and do not call for drilling, unlike the boreholes of about 10cm in diameter, which will be drilled into an existing trail.

Site investigation works into the alternative option that skirts around the reserve started in May 2016 for the Government to analyse and determine soil conditions and engineering feasibility. Findings from the works into the direct and skirting options will provide input for the second phase of the EIA.

The longer 9km skirt around the CCNR will incur an extra travel time of six minutes, compared with the more direct 4km route running underneath the reserve, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said in March 2016.

The Government will decide on the alignment only after it takes into consideration the concerns from all stakeholders and the potential impact on the CCNR, and after the completion of the investigation works and Phase 2 of the EIA .

In the latest site investigation announced, TET will carry out the borehole drilling works. It has extensive experience in borehole drilling, including in environmentally-sensitive areas, the LTA said. It was involved in borehole drilling operations for slope stabilisation studies at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Bukit Batok Nature Park.

Ryobi G, supported by its subcontractor Geophysical Services, will carry out geophysical survey works within the CCNR. It has carried out geophysical surveys on Government projects like the Thomson-East Coast Line and the Rail Corridor. To reduce the impact on the environment, it will be using wireless equipment for the works.

The appointed contractors have to put in place additional measures to reduce the impact on the forest environment during the soil works. These include engaging a certified arborist (tree expert) to ensure that trees are not damaged during the works and requiring contractors to conduct trial runs and rehearsals of borehole operations and off-trail surveys off-site, before they venture into the forest, to ensure equipment is fully functional and within the stringent requirements of working with the reserve.

A team of LTA officers and the contractors will work closely with the National Parks Board and nature groups to ensure that all mitigating measures are "rigorously implemented", said the LTA.

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Singapore's Zika journey: Two months on

Oct 27 marks two months since the first locally transmitted Zika case was reported in Singapore. Channel NewsAsia’s Lianne Chia looks back at the concerns and anxiety that gripped the nation, and how Singapore has progressed in its fight against Zika.
Lianne Chia Channel NewsAsia 27 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: It was around 7.30pm on Saturday, Aug 27 when the news broke.

An emailed press release from the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced Singapore’s first confirmed locally transmitted case of Zika: A 47-year-old Malaysian woman living at Block 102 Aljunied Crescent had developed a fever, rash and conjunctivitis two days earlier.

She had tested positive for the Zika virus – and as she had not travelled to affected areas, there could be only one conclusion.

She had caught the virus in Singapore.

Newsrooms went into overdrive and social media caught fire, as anxiety spread across the island.

Few people knew how to react to the news that Zika, especially with its reported link to microcephaly, was now circulating in the midst of Singaporeans.

But it was perhaps inevitable. Singapore had, after all, already had its first imported Zika case in May, in a 48-year-old man who had returned from Brazil.


The anxiety heightened as more cases of the virus were announced. By the end of August, there were 82 confirmed cases of Zika, and authorities warned that the number of cases would likely go up as more testing was carried out.

Countries like Australia and the UK began issuing advisories about visiting Singapore. Questions were raised about whether the Zika threat would affect the upcoming Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix.

And, not surprisingly, sales of mosquito repellent soared islandwide.

Authorities spearheaded an intensified battle against the Aedes mosquito. About 100 National Environment Agency (NEA) officers were deployed to the vicinity of Aljunied Crescent in the immediate aftermath of the first case. Thermal fogging, drain flushing and public outreach were among the actions carried out.

The area’s MP, Tin Pei Ling, began walking the ground in MacPherson almost immediately, giving out mosquito repellent and speaking to pregnant women. Aside from sharing a written advisory, she also gave her pregnant constituents contacts they could reach out to if they had feedback on mosquito breeding or questions relating to the virus.

“As a mother, of course I would be concerned but I believe that everyone is doing our best, including Government agencies like MOH and NEA,” she told reporters on the sidelines of a house visit on Aug 30. “So for now, we have to have the same faith and confidence in them.”

MPs in non-affected constituencies also geared up.

MP for Jalan Besar GRC Lily Neo said when news first broke about the virus, the first thing she did was to call a meeting with all her grassroots leaders. “The most important thing for us at the time was to make sure we could control the Aedes mosquito population,” she told Channel NewsAsia this week. “So we started planning straight away … we went house to house to give out mosquito patches, and put up posters at the lift landings and in the lifts.”

The community also rallied together in the midst of all the anxiety: One couple posted on Facebook offering pregnant women living in Zika-affected areas a place to stay.

The concern was brought up to the highest level: In Parliament on Sep 13, two ministers – Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli – delivered statements on Zika.

Mr Gan said the Government would no longer isolate or hospitalise Zika patients because Zika is a mosquito-borne disease with a majority of those infected asymptomatic.

He added that pregnant women who tested positive for Zika would be referred by their doctors to an obstetric or maternal-foetal medicine specialist for counselling and subsequent follow-up.

“Regular ultrasound scans will be carried out to monitor the development of the foetus. Zika infection does not always result in abnormal foetal development,” he said, adding that microcephaly has been tracked by the National Birth Defects Registry since 1993, and that MOH will work with doctors to monitor the outcomes of babies born to women with Zika.

By the end of September, 16 pregnant women were reported to have been infected with Zika.


Two months on, the spread of the virus appears to have abated. And anxiety may have eased.

While the week of Sep 11 to 17 saw 62 reported cases of the virus, the weekly numbers fell sharply in subsequent weeks, with numbers ranging from four in the week of Oct 2 to 8, to 11 in the next week, according to NEA data. As of Oct 26, a total of 435 cases have been reported.

And the country’s first and biggest local cluster in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive area, which accounts for about three-quarters of Singapore’s cases, was declared closed earlier this month.

“When news of Zika first came out, people were really anxious about it,” said general practitioner Dr Lye Tong Fong. “They would ask if it was safe for them to get pregnant, and about the chances of the baby potentially developing complications. But while some people still bring up the topic now, they aren’t too concerned about it,” he added. “It’s just like another infection.”

It was a similar experience for another GP, Dr Chew Chun Yang. “During the first few weeks of the outbreak, we received several queries asking about tests for Zika, and the availability of mosquito repellent at our clinic,” he said. “But in general, the anxiety level among the public has lessened.”

One possible reason for this could be that Singaporeans are now much more aware about Zika. “There are more avenues to read up and understand more about the virus and the situation,” said Dr Chew.

Dr Lye added that the Government’s efforts in raising public awareness has been “commendable”. “The general public is aware, but they aren’t too anxious or hyper-reactive,” he said.

“I think that’s a good thing. We want the people to be aware of the situation, but we don’t want them to go into panic mode and suddenly, tap on all the healthcare resources.”


Even as anxiety appears to have abated, infectious diseases specialists like Gleneagles Hospital’s Dr Wong Sin Yew believe people should not become complacent.

“I don’t think we are near the end of Zika in Singapore, and I don’t think we are going to be able to eradicate the virus completely,” he said. “We continue to have three ongoing clusters in the past two weeks, and I continue to worry that Zika will remain in the community.”

Just last week, Dr Chew, whose clinic is in the Serangoon area, saw his first confirmed case of Zika.

“Although the patient was not living or working in any of the listed Zika clusters, we did not rule out the possibility of a Zika infection,” he said. “It will not be surprising if we encounter more of such cases in future.

“We are being updated regularly by MOH about the disease, and the challenge would be to keep up with all the information available, while providing patient care on a daily basis,” he added.


Indeed, controlling the mosquito population remains the cornerstone of Singapore’s fight against Zika.

“Our key strategy for dengue control, and now Zika, is source reduction – the detection and removal of breeding habitats and larvae,” said Mr Masagos in his ministerial statement last month.

“This integrated vector management strategy is in line with the World Health Organization’s recommendations, and remains especially critical now as we are in the traditional dengue peak season,” he added.

But it is clear that there are challenges on the ground.

Dr Neo cited instances of mosquito breeding sites she has seen on her house visits. One resident left a large barrel of water outside his unit, saying that he could water his plants daily without having to go into his house. Another woman left six to eight uncovered bottles of water outside her flat for the same reason.

“Sometimes they live like that for so long, and this is their daily habit … so they’re not conscious about it,” Dr Neo said.

Within 10 days of the first case in August, Dr Neo and her grassroots volunteers had completed house visits to the more than 70 blocks under her charge. But even though there have been no confirmed cases of Zika among her residents, efforts are still ongoing.

“Every week, we have some form of outreach,” she said, highlighting block parties where residents are invited to come and meet her and her grassroots volunteers. “At least this way I can spend an hour to explain everything slowly to them, and in detail.”

“I think the virus is unfortunately going to be entrenched in Singapore, but I hope the numbers will remain persistently low,” said Gleneagles Hospital’s Dr Wong. “But I think if we continue putting in effort to control the mosquito population, I hope we can be successful.”

He is also hopeful about the Government’s project with Wolbachia mosquitoes. Last Tuesday, NEA released 3,000 bacteria-carrying mosquitoes at Braddell Heights estate in a six-month trial to tackle Singapore’s mosquito population.

“Think about our two other mosquito-borne infections in Singapore - dengue and chikungunya,” he said. “In the past three years, we’ve had an excess of 10,000 cases of dengue every year, sometimes going up to almost 20,000 cases. On the other hand, we’re getting about 20 cases a year of chikungunya.

“So obviously we hope that the Zika numbers will come down and remain at similar numbers as chikungunya.”

- CNA/lc

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Malaysia: Johor exco man urges water sufficiency

ZAZALI MUSA The Star 26 Oct 16;

JOHOR BARU: Johor will face a major water crisis if the state fails to develop sustainable water management by 2018.

State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said Johor has less than two years to start exploring new water resources.

He said present water production capacity of 1,700 million litres daily will not be enough to meet consumer demand, which is expected to double by 2018.

Hasni said if this happens, new investments in the state, especially in Iskandar Malaysia, will be affected.

"About 40% of the 1,700 million litres daily is being used by domestic and industrial users in south Johor where Iskandar Malaysia is located," he said.

Hasni said the state will have to ensure that new investments continue to flow into Iskandar Malaysia after 2018 by ensuring adequate water supply in the economic growth corridor.

He told reporters this in a press conference Wednesday after witnessing the signing of the corporate integrity pledge between SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd and its 350 business associates.

Hasni said the state government already has plans to start exploring for underground water to ensure that Johor will not face a water crisis.

"We are working with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and Japan Water Forum to conduct research on underground water reserves in the state," he added.

Hasni said the Mersing and Kluang districts have been identified as where exploration for underground water reserves could be conducted.

He said the state government will also look at other options, including building desalination plants.

Hasni said the developer of the multi-billion-ringgit Forest City project in Gelang Patah is required to build a desalination plant because of the scale of the project.

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