Best of our wild blogs: 7 Dec 16



Highlights for the Semester
BES Drongos


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Malaysia: ‘Forest City has great potential’

NELSON BENJAMIN, MOHD FARHAAN SHAH, and KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 7 Dec 16;

GELANG PATAH: The mammoth Forest City project has attracted investments totalling RM10bil so far and is propelling the economy and creating jobs, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said the project was not just about property development but involved other positive aspects to it.

“This project is generating the economy and creating jobs, including helping with tourism,” said Najib.

The development would also be a boon for the manufacturing, high tech, services and financial sectors.

“This project has a huge potential,” he said, adding that to date it had also sold 11,000 houses.

Najib was speaking to reporters after a two-day visit to Johor to check on the progress of various projects in the state.

At the forest city, Najib witnessed the signing ceremony between Forest City and 36 other companies before the grand opening of Phoenix Hotel.

Country Garden Pacificview (CGPV) executive director Datuk Md Othman Yusof said the mixed development project was expected to contribute some RM66bil in tax revenue to the country over the next 20 years.

He added that many industries were flocking to Forest City which was expected to contribute RM1.98 trillion to the country’s GDP.

“Forest City is gaining momentum due to its local, regional and global positioning and with a total cumulative investment of US$100bil (RM444bil) will attract returns of sufficient proportion.

“It is expected that Forest City will contribute tax revenue of about RM66bil to the Government over a period of 20 years,” Md Othman said during the signing of strategic initiatives ceremony and grand opening of Phoenix Hotel here yesterday.

The synergic partners are organisations from industries such as medical and healthcare, education and training, tourism, financial services, manufacturing, emerging technologies, smart city as well as green building.

The collaborations include seven companies listed under Fortune 500: Huawei, Cisco, Accen­ture, Midea, China Construction Steel Structure Corporation, Deutsche Bank (Asia Pacific) and Bank of China (Malaysia).

“This will cumulatively garner Forest City into becoming an economic hub complementing Iskandar Malaysia which will drive new business activities into the sustainable township,” said Md Othman.

He also noted that the completion of the hotel spelled good news for locals, as there would be job opportunities in the services sector, besides spurring tourism.

Md Othman said Phoenix Hotel, located on a 1.71ha plot of land on one of the four man-made islands, was among 50 other hotel chains in China developed by CGPV


Mega projects to give big boost to country’s economy
The Star 7 Dec 16;

JOHOR BARU: Malaysia’s mega infrastructure projects are expected to boost the country's economy by more than 50% to RM2 trillion in the next seven to eight years.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said he was hoping to make Malaysia one of the top 20 countries in the world.

“Presently, our economy is about RM1.3 trillion. I am confident that we can achieve this, especially with all our present projects,” he said.

The projects include the High Speed Rail, the Pan Borneo Highway, East Coast Rail Link, Bandar Malaysia and Vision Valley.

“In Johor itself, we have Iskandar Malaysia and the Pengerang oil and gas projects,” he said at the launch of Iskandar Malaysia’s 10-year anniversary here yesterday.

Later, asked on the details as to how he planned to make Malaysia to be among the top 20, he said there were certain criteria which would be announced later.

Najib also commended Iskandar Malaysia for helping to propel the state into a southern economic powerhouse, adding that the growth corridor had so far brought in investments totalling RM221bil and helped to create some 700,000 jobs.

During the event, he also announced special incentives for global business services (GBS), which would be one of the promoted sectors in Medini, Iskandar Malaysia.

“I hope this tax benefit will help make Iskandar Puteri into a hub for GBS,” he said, adding that this move was expected to attract some RM6.5bil in investments and create 14,000 jobs.

Under the incentives, eligible companies can apply for special Medini tax support packages and employees, a personal income tax rate of 15%.

Other plans being carried out in Iskandar Malaysia include RM50mil for a Bus Rapid Transit (first phase), RM280mil for a Sg Segget river upgrading project and other infrastructure development.

Asked about the High Speed Rail, Najib said everything was well and good, adding that it was expected to be signed next week.

“Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has contacted me asking for more time as they needed the consent of their president who is away,” he said, calling this a technical matter.


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Malaysia: Evidence found in Danum Valley could mean Sumatran rhinos exist in the wild

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 7 Dec 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The declaration by scientists that the Sumatran rhino is extinct in Malaysian jungles may have been premature after a footprint was spotted in Sabah’s untouched Danum Valley.

The footprint is believed to be from the animal, giving scientists and conservationists here a glimmer of hope.

It was found by a survey team at the internationally renown rainforest research centre between Aug 16 and 29, this year.

“We believe that it is a rhino footprint. But we can’t confirm it.

“It gives us some hope that rhinos still exist in the wild.

“So far, the rhino has not been seen or captured on camera in the area of survey,” said WWF Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Pro­g­­­ramme manager Sharon Koh Pei Hui during a briefing on her team’s findings to the media here yesterday.

Her team was among 10 who carried out the survey in Danum Valley as part of Yayasan Sabah’s efforts to strengthen strategic conservation efforts in the 438 sq km of untouched rainforest.

Koh, who did not identify the exact area where the footprint was spotted, said they needed to go back with various experts from the Borneo Rhino Alliance, Sabah Wildlife Department and Forestry Department to thoroughly check the area.

Koh said there were also some concerns about encroachment by people – possibly hunters –near where the footprint was found.

“We saw markings on the trees. It looks like people are encroaching into the area. There is a need to secure the place,” she said, adding that the place was close to the border with plantations.

Asked if the footprint could be that of an elephant or its calf, she said this was unlikely as there was no evidence of elephant dung or damage in the forest where the elephants might have passed through.

Only three rhinoceros in captivity are known to exist in Sabah with none having been spotted in the wild since 2011.

The last one spotted in Peninsular Malaysia was in 2007.

Last year, 11 scientists had declared that the Sumatran rhinos are now extinct from Malaysian jungles.

However, local conservationists are still holding on to the slim hope that the rhinos might be out there in untouched forests like Danum Valley or the Tabin Conservation Area in Lahad Datu.

Like in Indonesia’s central Kalimantan where the animals were thought to have also gone extinct, WWF camera traps recorded two rhinos in the wild about three years ago.

All the three rhinos at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary have problems in their reproductive systems and are unable to breed.


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Indonesian govt imposes moratorium on land clearing of peatland

Antara 6 Dec 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia, through its new government regulation (PP) No. 57/2016 on the revision of PP No. 71/2014 on Peat Ecosystem Management and Protection, has imposed a moratorium on land clearing in peatland areas.

The revision ruled that there should be no land clearing and no issuance of new licenses in peatland areas, especially for deep peatland, Secretary General of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry Bambang Hendroyono said here, Tuesday.

PP 57/2016 also states that no drainage should be performed as it causes the peat to dry out, and no fires can be set in peatland areas.

Even traditional communities have been barred from setting fires in peatland areas.

The new PP was signed by President Joko Widodo on Dec 2 and will go into effect in the very near future.

The new PP places a permanent moratorium on peatland exploitation, stating that everyone is prohibited from clearing new land until a zoning system for the protection and cultivation of the peatland ecosystem is in place.

"PP No. 57/2016 shows the solid commitment of President Joko Widodo to peatland ecosystem protection," stated San Afri Awang, who works with the Forestry Planology and Environmental Management section of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry.

Natural succession, rehabilitation, and restoration are ways of improving the peatland ecosystem.

"Natural succession means restoration without any human intervention," he explained.

In addition to the regulation, the government will also intensively monitor peatland restoration efforts.
(Uu.F001/INE/KR-BSR/H-YH)


Govt revises regulation on peatland protection
Antara 6 Dec 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government has issued Government Regulation (PP) No. 57/2016 as a revision of PP No. 71/2014 on peatland ecosystem management and protection.

"President Joko Widodo signed PP No. 57/2016 on December 2, 2016," Secretary General of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry Bambang Hendroyono said here, Tuesday.

The process of revising the government regulation had started in February 2016 with the support of other ministries.

The new PP places a permanent moratorium on peatland exploitation, stating that everyone is prohibited from clearing new land until a zoning system for the protection and cultivation of the peatland ecosystem is in place.

"PP No. 57/2016 shows the solid commitment of President Joko Widodo to peatland ecosystem protection," stated San Afri Awang, who works with the Forestry Planology and Environmental Management section of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry.

Natural succession, rehabilitation, and restoration are ways of improving the peatland ecosystem.

"Natural succession means restoration without any human intervention," he explained.

In addition to the regulation, the government will also intensively monitor peatland restoration efforts.

Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has issued an assignment letter to San Afri, placing him in charge of a monitoring team for a peatland restoration operation.

"The government is very serious (about this). We will monitor it continuously and impose sanctions against violators. This is proof of the governments serious commitment to peatland restoration," he added.(*)


Indonesia pledges to protect peatlands to fight climate change, haze
Coco Liu Reuters 6 Dec 16;

HONG KONG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Environmental activists hailed on Tuesday Indonesia's ban on converting peatlands into plantations but said enforcement was critical to reducing annual fires that shroud parts of Southeast Asia in choking haze.

Indonesia announced on Monday that companies were banned from turning peatlands into palm oil and other types of plantations, and must restore peatlands they have degraded.

Peat soils contain huge quantities of carbon in the form of organic matter, which accumulates over hundreds of years and provides nutrients for plant growth.

When peatlands are drained or cleared by fire to make way for plantations, the carbon is released into the atmosphere.

Environmental experts welcomed Indonesia's ban in light of a global accord signed in Paris last year to lower carbon emissions blamed for a warming planet.

"This regulation will be a major contribution to the Paris climate agreement and a relief to millions of Indonesians who suffer the effects of toxic haze from peat fires," said Nirarta Samadhi, Indonesia country director for the World Resources Institute think tank, in a statement.

Indonesia, the world's 6th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the country's Peatlands Restoration Agency, has more than 15 million hectares of peatlands, an area twice the size of Ireland.

WRI estimates by 2030, the new ban could help Indonesia cut up to 7.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to roughly all the annual greenhouse gases emitted by the United States.

Peaty soil, found in many parts of Indonesia, is particularly flammable when dry, often causing fires to spread beyond their intended areas.

Every year smoke from fires used to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations in Indonesia clouds the skies over much of the region, raising concerns about public health.

Indonesia has been criticized by neighbors and green groups for failing to end the annual fires, which were estimated to cost Southeast Asia's largest economy $16 billion in 2015, and left more than 500,000 Indonesians suffering from respiratory ailments.

Yuyun Indradi, a forest policy researcher at the Jakarta office of international campaign group Greenpeace, said Indonesia's ban was a "good move".

However, Indradi said Indonesia had introduced several moratoria aimed at protecting the environment before.

"A key problem has been enforcement and lack of transparency," Indradi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that previous environmental policies - such as requiring companies to protect carbon-rich deep peatlands - had been widely ignored.

"The big question will be how to get the new regulation enforced," he said.

(Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)


Indonesia expands protection for peatlands
CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN AFP 6 Dec 16;

Indonesia has extended legal protection for its wetlands and peat bogs by expanding a ban on the conversion of these carbon-rich swamps into plantations.

The move, if properly enforced, could drastically reduce Indonesia's sizeable carbon footprint and prevent a repeat of the annual forest fires that plague the region, conservationists say.

A moratorium on new conversions of certain peatland areas has been in place since 2011 in Indonesia.

But this latest revision -- signed into law by President Joko Widodo, and issued Monday -- clarifies and expands the law, ensuring that all peatlands are covered and that companies must restore areas they have degraded.

"We want to avoid any misinterpretation of the existing regulation, which gives the impression that land-clearing is still allowed," environment ministry spokesman Djati Witjaksono Hadi told AFP Tuesday.

Peatlands take thousands of years to form as layers of dense wet plant material compact into dense carbon stores.

When these ancient swamps are drained or cleared by fire to make way for commercial plantations -- such as for palm oil or pulp wood -- that carbon is released into the atmosphere.

Conservationists hailed the strengthened moratorium as a win for climate change.

"This regulation will be a major contribution to the Paris climate agreement," said the World Resources Institute's Nirarta Samadhi, referring to a binding agreement on reducing emissions.

Norway -- which pledged in 2010 to pay Indonesia up to $1 billion if it preserved its rain forests -- committed $25 million to restore peatlands in the wake of the announcement.

The moratorium could also help prevent the outbreak of deadly smog from forest fires that shrouds the region every year, causing widespread illness.

Peatlands are moist and unlikely to ignite unless drained.

Hadi said the new regulation provided clearer guidance, ensuring no burning or draining was permitted.

Fires deliberately lit in 2015 across Indonesia's forests and peatlands were the worst in nearly two decades.

Research from Harvard and Columbia universities in the US estimate the crisis caused more than 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia and neighbouring countries.

The World Bank put the economic impact at $16 billion -- twice Indonesia's clean-up bill in the wake of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.


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Indonesia: Central Sulawesi’s mineral mining muddle

Ruslan Sangadji The Jakarta Post 6 Dec 16;

Risky business: Sand and rock mining activities take place on the shores of Palu and Donggala, Central Sulawesi. The massive mining operation has caused environmental and health problems.

Large-scale rock and sand mining in Central Sulawesi has taken its toll on the environment and people in the area.

On the shores of Palu and Donggala, Central Sulawesi, excavators and crushers were seen in full operation, smashing stones into gravel, sand and dust. Large trucks then took these small rocks to barges and tugboats for delivery to East Kalimantan.

Around 100 meters from the mine in Watusampu subdistrict, Ulujadi district, Palu, a middle-aged woman was sweeping the yard of the local public health center. The thick dust she was removing came from mineral, rock and sand mines around the hills in Watusampu.

Hamidah, the woman who heads the health center, said the dust polluting the air had caused local residents to suffer from acute respiratory infection, with up to five patients complaining of symptoms daily. If they remain untreated, she fears that they might be affected by tuberculosis.

The health center has recorded around 20 cases of people vomiting blood and hundreds of others affected by respiratory disease caused by the mining dust over the last few months.

In addition to health problems, 23 traffic accidents have taken place at mining locations. There has also been erosion and landslides, creating slippery roads within only a year.

Environmental activist Dedi Irawan said large-scale mining activities had also impacted the supply of water in the area. Currently, there are six mining companies operating in the region, each with a concession of 12 hectares and a shoreline reclamation area of up to 200 meters.

Talo, a local woman, said it was now harder for her to access water than five years ago, when water from nearby mountains was running plentifully.

“Now the water has been contaminated by mining dust,” she complained.

An agriculture expert from Palu’s Tadulako University (Untad), Alam Anshari, said the dust had also affected plants cultivated by residents as the thick dust sticking to their leaves hampers the process of photosynthesis.

The irresponsible mining activities may also increase the vulnerability of the area to earthquakes, the university’s spatial layout expert, Amar Akbar Ali, says.

He explains that sand mining activities located on the outskirts of Palu and Donggala serve as a buffer zone for the city and regency.

Seismographic records at the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency in Palu show that almost every minute Palu and Donggala are shaken, though only by minor tremors detectable by the seismograph.

“The situation will get worse if uncontrolled mining continues in the same way,” said Amar.

Health and environmental problems are among issues that have arisen from the lack of supervision over large-scale sand and rock mining in Palu and Donggala, resulting in many irresponsible practices, at both the exploration and exploitation stage.

When mining business licenses were still under the authority of regents and mayors, local governments issued many mining permits. Yet, there has seemingly been an inadequate level of supervision from local authorities.

Head of the provincial energy and mineral resources office, Bambang Sunaryo, said that 34 licenses had been issued in Palu and an additional 55 in Donggala, most of which hadn’t been clear and clean.

Meanwhile, the Mining Advocacy Network of Central Sulawesi recorded only 24 licenses issued in Donggala.

“If the number turned out to be 55 in Donggala, the provincial administration might have issued new ones,” said Syahruddin Douw, the network’s director for Central Sulawesi

Syahruddin explained that his office’s data was based on Donggala’s mineral mining tax revenue of Rp14.063 billion (US$1.04 million) annually between 2014 and 2015.

Yet, Bambang Sunaryo denied such accusations, arguing that since the revocation of local authority over license issuance by Law No. 23/2014; his office had not issued any new mining business licenses.

“We’re now evaluating all the existing mining licenses,” Bambang said, adding that both license holders and local administrations were responsible for the many violations that had occurred.

Among others, some mining companies possessing only exploration permits have begun exploitation activities. As an excuse, they have reportedly said that the materials they are looking for are visible on the surface and therefore no further exploration is needed.

The provincial energy and mineral resources office plans to halt all mining activities with questionable licenses. Such action follows the Corruption Eradication Commission’s supervision program in 2014 on mining operation restructuring.

“If a company is unwilling to meet the relevant requirements, its license will be revoked,” Bambang pointed out.

Head of the provincial environment agency, Abdul Rahim, admitted that provisional study results had revealed many violation indicators, including environmental damage around mining areas in Palu and Donggala and respiratory complaints from residents.

— Photos by Ruslan Sangadji


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Indonesia: Efforts underway to restore Lake Limboto in Gorontalo

Otniel Tamindael Antara 6 Dec 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The central government is giving special attention to Gorontalo, currently the third conservation province in Indonesia after the provinces of West Papua and East Kalimantan.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya explained in Gorontalo on Monday that the conservation effort is intended to preserve and protect the environment, biodiversity and rare flora and fauna and to restore Lake Limboto.

The largest lake in Gorontalo is now in critical condition from an environmental standpoint because of silting, so efforts are being made to restore the lake to its former glory and prevent it from running dry.

Local wisdom in Gorontalo, according to the environment and forestry minister, must be revived as one of the necessary measures for restoring the condition of Lake Limboto.

Conservation efforts in the area, including restoring the condition of the lake, must consider other dimensions to the problem and solution, such as taking into account the values of the nobility in society.

The environment and forestry minister also highlighted the decline in the quality of water at Lake Limboto and promised to step up efforts to conserve and restore the lake.

Lake Limboto is one of the most popular tourist spots in Gorontalo, but it is being threatened by pollution and environmental problems, so prompt measures for preservation are underway.

Without these efforts, the lake, also a habitat for the flora and fauna in the province, will eventually completely dry out.

The locals have been called on to lend their complete support to the revitalization initiative, which is in their own interests and for their welfare.

The Regional Development Planning Board (Bappeda) has coordinated efforts to restore and revitalize Lake Limboto with the government of Gorontalo to synergize the various programs associated with the lakes preservation.

The coordination effort also involved the Department of Public Works of Gorontalo Province, the Lake Limboto Revitalization Team, and the Board of Watershed Management.

Gorontalo Regional Development and Natural Resources Head Sulastri Husain has said her party is currently familiarizing the locals with the revitalization process for Lake Limboto.

"Coordination with the Gorontalo city government is important because the revitalization and handling of Lake Limboto must be comprehensive and sustainable," she remarked in Gorontalo some time ago.

According to her, embankment construction work and the dredging of sediment in the lake will continue and needs the support of the local government, local people, and all relevant parties.

The local government should proactively provide clear information to the locals concerning the revitalization efforts, so that there is no confusion.

The revitalization of Lake Limboto will include recovery efforts upstream, midstream, and downstream, because the largest contribution of sediment occurs upstream.

Gorontalo Governor Rusli Habibie has also encouraged the locals to support the project by not hindering the construction of an embankment around the lake and a sluice gate to manage the flow of water into and out of the lake.

He also pointed out that the embankment and sluice gate will help prevent the floods that frequently plague Gorontalo during the rainy season.

The governor explained that continuous dredging was necessary as the depth of the lake had steadily decreased.

"The revitalization process is aimed at restoring the condition of the lake," he noted, adding that the central government, through the Public Works Ministry, had allocated funds worth Rp150 billion to restore the lake.

The funds were also used for sediment dredging and the construction of a sluice gate and dykes around Lake Limboto.

As part of the 15 inland water bodies in Indonesia that are in critical condition, Lake Limboto, the largest in Gorontalo province, should be returned to its original state.

Thus, Gorontalo Deputy Governor Idris Rahim stated that the provincial administration was ready to implement a forest integration program to save the lake.

"Lake Limboto is currently in a very alarming condition because of silting. Therefore, the forest integration program, involving the military (TNI) and police, aims to save the lake," Rahim remarked in Gorontalo some time ago.

He noted that efforts such as reforestation programs around the lake and along the banks of the tributaries that empty into the lake have been started to prevent silting.

According to him, the forest integration program to save Lake Limboto is a strategic effort as it is among the 15 lakes in critical condition in Indonesia that need to be preserved.

"Lake Limbotos preservation must involve the local communities that are concerned about the viability of the lake," he emphasized.

He pointed out that although the provincial administration has implemented several programs to save the lake, these had yet to yield optimal results.

"Therefore, involving the TNI and Polri in the forest integration program to save Lake Limboto is expected to prove effective," he added.

Even President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) is concerned about the current condition of Lake Limboto, as it was covered by water hyacinths, which make the lake shallower by the day.

Moved by the critical condition of Lake Limboto, the head of state had promised to speed up the dredging of sediments from the lake bed, a process that he estimated could cost nearly Rp11 trillion.

He also urged the public works minister to speed up the dredging process and construction work.

The local government is optimistic that the revitalization and preservation programs for the lake can be accelerated.
(T.O001/INE/KR-BSR/H-YH)


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Indonesia: 177 landslides since early this year

Antara 7 Dec 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - A total of 576 landslides have hit Indonesia since early this year, leaving 177 people dead and 100 others injured, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Board (BNPB).

"The threat of landslides continues to increase, along with heavy rainfall. The rains are expected to peak in January 2017 and more landslides may occur," Chief of the BNPB Information Center and Public Relations Service, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said here on Tuesday.

The landslides also forced 38,506 people to abandon their homes and caused major damage to 1,068 houses, moderate damage to 987 houses and minor damage to 926 houses.

The landslides also affected tens of public buildings, the board added.

The agency predicted that more landslides are expected to occur in the few days left in this year.

Landslides have been occurring with ever more frequency, compared to 291 in 2012, 296 in 2013, 600 in 2014, and 515 in 2015.

While 119 deaths were recorded in 2012, 190 in 2013, 372 in 2014 and 119 in 2015.

"The rising number of landslides in Indonesia is related to the high level of vulnerability," he noted.

A total of 274 districts and municipalities in Indonesia are prone to landslides.(*)


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Thailand: Heavy flooding kills 14, inundates tourist isles

Reuters 6 Dec 16;

Floods in Thailand have killed 14 people and badly affected southern holiday islands as the country heads into the December-January high season for tourism, authorities said on Tuesday.

A low pressure system has brought heavy rain to parts of the south including the islands of Samui and Pha Ngan in the Gulf of Thailand, and floods have also severed the rail link to the south and Malaysia beyond.

Tourism has been a rare bright spot for an economy that has struggled to gain traction since the army seized power in a bloodless coup in 2014 to end months of political unrest.

The death on Oct. 13 of long-reigning King Bhumibol Adulyadej plunged the country into grief and also raised questions about tourist arrivals though authorities say the country is open for business despite a year of mourning.

"There has been heavier rain than usual which has caused drainage problems," Nongyao Jirundom of the state Tourism Authority of Thailand on Samui island told Reuters.

"Swimming is out of the question."

National Disaster Warning Centre said 14 Thai people had been killed in various accidents caused by the weather in different parts of the south.

Southbound trains have been halted in the town of Thung Song in Nakhon Si Thammarat province because of flooding.

Nakhon Si Thammarat has had 447 mm of precipitation in the past 7 days, 380 mm more than the average for this time of year, according to Thomson Reuters data.

December marks the beginning of the dry season when tourists descend on palm fringed beaches to celebrate the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Despite the mourning period for the late king, authorities are bullish about the outlook for tourism, which accounts for 10 percent of gross domestic product.

The tourism ministry expects a record 32.4 million arrivals this year.

Widespread floods in 2011 killed more than 900 people and caused major disruption to industry, cutting economic growth that year to just 0.1 percent.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel)


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South Korea expands poultry cull to fight bird flu

Reuters 6 Dec 16;

South Korea plans to cull more chickens and ducks as it tries to contain an outbreak of bird flu, with a total of around 8 percent of the nation's poultry population expected to be slaughtered.

The government said on Tuesday that 28 cases of the H5N6 strain of bird flu had been confirmed since mid-November, with another 10 possible cases being investigated.

It added that if the virus continued to spread, the government could issue a so-called 'standstill order' to prevent workers from the poultry industry moving around the country. That would follow similar temporary restrictions that were introduced over a weekend in late November.

The agriculture ministry said in a statement that 4.4 million farm birds had been slaughtered as of Tuesday, with another 2.6 million expected to be culled. That would be over 8 percent of the country's poultry population of nearly 85 million.

Supplies of chicken, eggs and duck meat have not tightened as of yet, an agriculture ministry official said, but chicken prices are expected to fall as consumer worries grow.

Producer prices for chickens stood at 1,690 won ($1.44) per kilogram as of Tuesday, down 4.5 percent from the November average of 1,770 won/kg, according to data from the Korea Broiler Council.

Cases of human infections from the H5N6 virus have previously been reported elsewhere, with the virus killing at least 10 people in China since April 2014. No cases of human infections have been reported in South Korea.

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Japan has been culling poultry due to the discovery of a different form of bird flu there, while a series of cases have also been found in Europe.

(Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Joseph Radford)


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Climate protection gap widening, warns insurance report

Mark Kinver BBC News 7 Dec 16;

Experts have warned of a US $100bn (£79bn) "protection gap" in the global insurance sector as a result of the rising impact of climate risks.

ClimateWise, based at the University of Cambridge, warned that the gap of uninsured or under-insured assets had quadrupled over the past three decades.

The insurance sector's role as society's risk manager was under threat, warned one senior figure.

The network outlined its findings in two reports published on Wednesday.

"What we have seen is that over the past 30 years, as societal exposure to climate change has increased, is that the traditional response of insurance - which is to reassess, re-underwrite, and reprice - is almost becoming the sector's Achilles heel if you like because it is repricing itself out of risk but it is not addressing the root cause of the problem, which is that society is increasingly vulnerable to climate risks and it is in need of enhancing its resilience," explained ClimateWIse programme manager Tom Herbstein.

He said the protection gap was the difference between total economic loss and the value of assets that were covered by insurance policies.
"We have seen this gap open up from about US $23bn about 30 years ago to over US $100bn today," Dr Herbstein told BBC News.

He said that the burden of covering the cost of the protection gap fell on other parts of society, such as governments and asset owners. "In some cases, no-one covers it at all," he added.

The details of the widening protection gap in the global insurance market was published in ClimateWise's annual review of its 29 members' activities.

ClimateWise, a network of leading insurance companies, was established in 2008 by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability.

'Under threat'

The network's chairman, Maurice Tulloch, who is also chairman of global general insurance at Aviva, warned: "The insurance industry's role as society's risk manager is under threat.

"Our sector will struggle to reduce this protection gap is our response is limited to avoiding, rather than managing, society's exposure to climate risk."

In another ClimateWise report, Investing in Resilience, the network highlighted ways that the industry could help support its clients to build a more robust infrastructure.

Dr Herbstein said the report published by ClimateWise's Societal Resilience Programme, identified a number of approaches that would allow the global insurance industry to use its expertise and data in risk management to support its clients and the wider financial world to deliver climate resilience.

"One is how insurers can start to invest in resilience internally, within its existing investment portfolio - such as increased investment in green bonds," he said.

"Interestingly, it also looks at what insurance can do, given all of its data and expertise, to help the wider financial system to better understand its risk exposure.

"There potential for the insurance industry to support banks to better understand the risk exposure that their mortgage portfolio is facing from climate change, on the basis that if banks are more aware of the risks the properties they are lending to might face, such as the knock-on effect of a loss in property values.

"Insurance companies have a vested interest in banks making a more strategic decisions because that would have a knock-on impact on the decisions that developers, local governments and property owner will make in terms of where they plan to locate new properties or protect existing ones."

"Our argument is that the really powerful role the insurance sector can play is to support external stakeholders to start investing in climate resilience.

"If the industry can start working outide its traditional risk-carrying role, it is going to have huge knock-on benefits. There is a real case for change," Dr Herbstein observed.


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Preserve nature reserve in Mandai as buffer zone

LEONG KWOK PENG, VICE-PRESIDENT AND CHAIR (CONSERVATION COMMITTEE), NATURE SOCIETY (SINGAPORE)
Today Online 6 Dec 16;

Within the parameters of being tasked with running revenue-earning attractions, Mandai Park Holdings has tried to give some consideration to the nature reserve adjacent to its new wildlife parks (“Mandai project: More measures to lessen impact on environment”; Oct 11).

However, the position of the Nature Society (Singapore) is that such facilities should not be located next to the nature reserve.

Our proposed extension of the nature reserve into the two plots in question would link two patches of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve that are now separated.

Already, the regenerating forest on the former farmland site allocated for the Rainforest Park North harbours a diversity of wildlife, with many nationally- and globally-threatened species, as evident in the Environmental Impact Assessment records.

Much of the existing nature reserve used to be farming areas; for example, the Lower Peirce forests. Being former farmland does not disqualify an area from becoming a nature reserve.

Over the past 20 years, the Government has utilised former farming areas to buffer weak flanks of forested nature reserves.

Such laudable remedial actions include the Hindhede and Dairy Farm areas bordering the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and, more recently, the creation of the Chestnut, Windsor and Thomson nature parks along the Central Catchment Nature Reserve’s boundaries.

Sadly, at Mandai, the gap in the nature reserve is not receiving similar consideration. The Jurong Bird Park and the misnamed Rainforest Park, effectively another zoo, will be sited there instead, destroying flora and fauna in their making.

Our suggestion of nature-based adventure centres on these sites adds to the impetus to greater environmental sustainability for Singapore.

Mandai Park Holdings could still pursue its proposals inside its existing boundaries, such as Rainforest Park South, to expand its revenue-earning and conservation work.

Jurong Bird Park could retain its name and enhance ongoing developments if re-sited within the Jurong Lake District — a win-win situation for Mandai Park Holdings, for Jurong, for Singapore’s biodiversity and for future generations of students.


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Vietnam: Phu Quoc islanders lament ‘sand drain’ to Singapore

TUOI TRE NEWS 5 Dec 16;

A huge amount of sand from a dredging project off the southern Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc is being sold to Singapore, while local constructions are forced to use sand bought from the mainland, a paradox angering residents of the popular tourist destination.

Phu Quoc is a district administered by the southern province of Kien Giang, and where the Naval Zone 5, a Vietnamese Navy command unit, has its headquarters and naval port.

The Naval Zone 5 has two private firms carry out the sand dredging project to open the access channel to the port, with the dredged sand exported to Singapore.

Many Phu Quoc islanders have complained that the sand should be used in local construction projects rather than being exported, while others expressed concern that the continuous dredging would eventually cause land subsidence, affecting the safety of islanders.

Dredging throughout the night

The sale of sand to Singapore emerged in late 2015 but quickly ceased following protests from local residents.

However, in early November, barges began returning to the waters off Phu Quoc Island for dredging, before carrying the sand to ships waiting to transport the material to Singapore.

At first light on November 30, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters arrived at the naval port to observe the sale of sand, with two major ships docked around 1km from the port, waiting for the dredged sand to be loaded.

At the time, the ship Turicum was fully loaded with sand and was pending procedures to sail back to Singapore.

Anchored a few hundred meters away from Turicum was the Yuan Shun Hai, operated by Cosco Shipping, which was loading sand from several barges.

Ten barges were docked not far away from the two vessels, with four busily pumping sand from the seabed.

On December 1, Tuoi Tre visited the Phu Quoc representative office of the Kien Giang Seaport Authority, while a Turicum representative was completing paperwork for the ship to leave.

It would be the third Phu Quoc-Singapore trip over the last 30 days for Turicum, and the fourth for Yuan Shun Hai. Both vessels are able to carry some 60,000 metric tons of sand per trip.

The Cosco Shipping-operated Yuan Shun Hai ship is seen off Phu Quoc Island.

Phu Quoc islanders have strongly disapproved of the sale of sand dredged off the island to foreign companies.

At a meeting with Kien Giang lawmakers on November 11, Nguyen Van Nam, a resident of the island’s An Thoi Town, questioned why Vietnam continues to export sand to Singapore while many other countries stopped doing so long ago.

Huynh Quang Hung, deputy chairman of Phu Quoc District, also opposed the decision of the Naval Zone 5 to export the locally dredged sand.

“The sand must have been used for construction projects on Phu Quoc, given the current demand for site leveling on the island,” Hung said at the same meeting.

Hung underlined that continuous sand dredging may cause land subsidence near the port, adding that the district’s administration will continue to petition higher authorities to have the dredging stopped.

“Many infrastructure and tourism projects on Phu Quoc are in need of a huge amount of sand for site leveling, but have to buy from the mainland at inflated prices because the on-island supply falls short,” he said.

As Tuoi Tre returned to the scene on Sunday, a new vessel, Hong Kong’s Jin Gang, was seen waiting to receive sand off Phu Quoc Island.

The Jin Gang ship is seen off Phu Quoc Island.

‘In line with procedures’

Phung Quoc Binh, deputy director of the Kien Giang environment department, confirmed that sand is being dredged and sold to Singapore off Phu Quoc Island, but the activity is in line with all procedures, paperwork and regulations.

On November 30, a Naval Zone 5 high-ranking official also asserted to Tuoi Tre that the dredging is in line with procedure and under proper supervision by the environment department.

The naval official refused to comment further, asking Tuoi Tre to work with the environment department.

On December 1, Vo Thi Van, another deputy director of the Kien Giang environment department, gave Tuoi Tre a departmental inspection report on the sand dredging project in waters near the Naval Zone 5 port.

According to the document, the project is backed by the Ministry of Defense, with all necessary papers completed and approved.

The developer, the Naval Zone 5, has also been authorized to contract two private firms, Hai Viet Co. and Duc Long Co., to carry out the dredging to save investment cost.

Van added that the amount of sand to be dredged had also been approved by the Ministry of Construction.
Under the construction ministry’s license, the two companies are allowed to exploit seven million cubic meters of sand, with one million cubic meters eligible for export.

The inspection report was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources on July 19.

At that time, the companies had dredged 296,868 cubic meters of sand and exported more than 100,000 cubic meters.

The firms had paid more than VD1.11 billion (US$49,554) in export taxes, but were yet to pay the natural resources and dredging taxes.

Van told Tuoi Tre on December 1 that her department would re-inspect the dredging activity and report to both Kien Giang’s and Phu Quoc’s administrations as soon as possible.

“The report will also be made public to all islanders, allowing them to directly oversee the dredging project,” she pressed.


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