Best of our wild blogs: 24 Feb 17



Revisiting rainwater harvesting in Singapore
Water Quality in Singapore

Creating a Liveable Singapore: Kampong Spirit 2.0
IPS Common

5 March: Sustainability Sunday at Serangoon Gardens
Green Drinks Singapore


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Last islanders likely to get to remain on St John's Island

Plan to uproot them sparks dismay among public leading to Govt reviewing the move
Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times 23 Feb 17;

The last few occupants of St John's Island, who had been asked to leave by this year, may be spending their twilight years on the island after all.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which is taking over the state land from managing agent Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) on March 1, told The Straits Times it is "working out an arrangement" with the ageing islanders.

A Straits Times article in December
, which reported that SDC senior support assistants, Madam Fauziyah Wakiman, 65, and Mr Supar Saman, 67, would retire to the mainland in the lead-up to the corporation handing over management of the island, sparked dismay among the public.

The duo have lived on the quiet island south of Singapore for decades.

Mr Sulih and his home on the island. St John's was where he was born 71 years ago, grew up and got married. He retired as one of the island's caretakers in 2010 and is one of only four occupants there.

People saw their fate as the loss of a bygone way of life and asked if it was necessary to uproot the couples.

In its response yesterday, SLA noted that the islanders had lived and worked on the island for many years, and had expressed their desire to continue living there.

SLA's spokesman said: "We are supportive of their request as they have volunteered to continue contributing to the islands where they can and we are working out an arrangement with them."

The islanders, who were in the process of moving out, welcomed the news.

Mr Supar said he was "happy".

Madam Fauziyah's husband, Mr Mohamed Sulih, 71, who was born, raised and married on the island, said: "I'm of course very happy.

"I've moved half my belongings to Singapore but I'm glad that they changed their minds."

SDC, which oversees maintenance of the island and "on-site guest support", had said in December last year that it provided staff living quarters on the island so the two employees would not have to travel back and forth between the island and the mainland.

The Straits Times understands they will get to continue living in these quarters, and that the matter of an allowance is being discussed.

Among those who had pleaded for the islanders were members of Singapore's heritage community.

Said heritage enthusiast and freelance writer, Mr Marcus Ng, 41, who is a frequent island visitor: "The islanders can share with visitors the island's history and how it has changed over the years as first-hand witnesses.

"This is not something you can get from reading a book or an article."

The island has served as a quarantine station for cholera patients, a holding site for political prisoners and secret-society ringleaders, and a drug rehabilitation centre.

Over the decades, staff at these centres had lived on the island, although most had left by 1975, said Mr Sulih.

• Additional reporting by Seow Bei Yi


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Singapore scientists, volunteers monitor seagrass health

The Straits Times 24 Feb 17;

Apart from being a source of food for herbivores, seagrass meadows are nurseries for juvenile animals such as crabs, shrimps and fishes. The structural complexity of seagrasses makes seagrass meadows areas of rich marine biodiversity.

There are a total of 12 species of seagrasses in Singapore, out of 23 in the Indo-Pacific region, and their habitats can be found both on the northern and southern shores of the island.

Animals associated with seagrass habitats include sea stars, seahorses, crabs, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and snails. TeamSeagrass, a group of volunteers, conducts frequent seagrass monitoring at six locations - Chek Jawa, Pulau Semakau, Cyrene Reef, Sentosa, Labrador Beach and Tuas. The information collected is shared with Seagrass-Watch, an international monitoring programme for seagrasses.

Like much of the country's natural heritage, seagrass meadows have been in decline for decades, with around 40 per cent of the original cover lost to coastal development. Since 2007, scientists and volunteers have regularly monitored them for their health.

A three-year research project, which ends in the middle of next year, intends to better understand the dispersal patterns of seagrasses, in addition to assessing how resilient they are in the face of various stressors.

Source: National Parks Board


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Disrupting the disruptors: Singapore rattles sharing economy with rule change

Fathin Ungku and Jeremy Wagstaff Reuters 23 Feb 17;

Singapore, a keen early adopter of the sharing economy, has fired a warning shot across the bow of Airbnb and Uber with tighter rules that could shake up their business models and growth ambitions in Asia.

The rules, some say, are a sign that even governments sympathetic to companies that allow citizens to rent out their expertise or property have a hard time striking the right balance between encouraging disruptive technologies and keeping them in line.

"I know a lot of people will give back their keys, that's for sure," said Lionel Ong, 33, an Uber driver, who wants to look for a less demanding part time job.

As its traditional manufacturing industry has hollowed out in the past decade or so, the affluent city-state has been quick to embrace opportunities in the digital economy, hosting the Asian headquarters of Airbnb and Uber, inviting its executives to conferences and investing in Uber's regional rival Grab through a unit of its investment arm for Temasek.

It’s too early to say what impact the new rules would have on Uber and Airbnb, but they highlight increasing scrutiny by regulators globally and growth challenges facing these new economy businesses.

April Rinne, an expert on the sharing economy who has advised companies and governments, including Singapore, says the city state's case mirrors other early adopter countries like Denmark, where legislators are mulling laws which would require taxis to have seat sensors, video surveillance and taxi meters.

"It’s a watershed that should also sound warning bells," Rinne said.

Singapore's new rules, passed this month, will be implemented in stages from the second half of this year. They allow officials to suspend a ride-sharing company for up to a month after three or more instances of their drivers getting caught without a proper license or insurance. The drivers themselves face fines and jail.

In the case of Airbnb, officials will have the right to force their way into homes to check whether residents were renting them out illegally, adding teeth to a rarely enforced law which bans the renting out of private property for less than six months.

HIGH GROWTH MARKET, HURDLES

The sharing economy business is billed for explosive growth, estimated by PricewaterhouseCoopers to reach $335 billion by 2025, from around $15 billion in 2016.

So there’s a lot at stake for companies. And the worry, says Adrian Lee, who runs a car-sharing service called Tribecar in Singapore, is that other markets might ape the city state's stance.

“I'm afraid other legislators may take a leaf from our play book without allowing these services to get to critical mass."

Singapore had been one of the few bright spots in Asia for Uber, which has been facing legal scrutiny in many markets across the region. Uber has suspended its service in Taiwan and has withdrawn from China after selling its business there. And in South Korea and Japan, authorities have limited its operations.

Jean Chia, a Singapore-based academic who studies the sharing economy, says since short-term renters "were previously operating in a gray area", the tighter regulations raise some immediate questions around the business model of Airbnb.

Airbnb's director of public policy in Asia Pacific, Mike Orgill, echoed those concerns, saying there are “thousands of people earning supplemental income … so the lack of clarity is of concern for hosts."

Drivers of Uber and Grab said a requirement for all drivers to obtain a vocational license would force out a lot of part-time drivers, while the threat of fines and even jail would deter others.

There is no comparable measure in "the more than 450 cities we operate in," Uber's Singapore general manager Warren Tseng said of the rule change, warning it would affect tens of thousands of drivers and "hundreds of thousands of commuters."

Uber's strong regional rival Grab, which is planning to invest $700 million in Indonesia, one of Asia's biggest markets, is more sanguine about the new laws.

Grab's country head Kell Jay Lim said though the company expects some drop-off after the regulations kick in, the rules showed that Singapore was now absorbing the sharing economy into the mainstream.

"It's a stamp of approval of what we're trying to do.”

(Reporting By Jeremy Wagstaff; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)


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Numbers of endangered bulbuls show slight rebound on Pulau Ubin

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — While their counterparts in the region have been hunted relentlessly for the caged-bird trade, at least 202 Straw-headed bulbuls have found a safe home in Singapore and have grown in numbers on Pulau Ubin.

The population of the endangered songbird species on the island grew at nearly 4 per cent per year over the past 15 years to at least 110, while numbers on the mainland have held steady.

These findings by six Singaporean birdwatchers were published recently in the journal Bird Conservation International.

The bird’s conservation status was raised last December from “vulnerable” to “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which classifies species at high risk of global extinction.

With the global population of the bird estimated at 600 to 1,700 individuals, the group in Singapore may easily comprise up to one-third of the world’s remaining wild Straw-headed bulbuls.

The authors added that the estimate of 202 is likely to be conservative, given that surveys of Singapore’s western catchment area were not comprehensive due to limited access.

Mr Yong Ding Li, a PhD student at Australian National University, who led the study, said: “Across much of South-east Asia, the Straw-headed bulbul has been relentlessly trapped from the wild to be later sold in the bird markets of Java, Kalimantan, Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia.

“The bird has gone extinct in Thailand and parts of Indonesia where it used to be found, including the whole island of Java. It has also declined across Malaysia.”

In contrast, new sites for the bulbul have been discovered here recently.

Co-author Ho Hua Chew, who is also vice-chair of the conservation committee at Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS), said: “The bulbul is found in pockets of woodland such as Pulau Ubin, Bukit Brown and Khatib Bongsu. More should be done to protect such places, which are currently outside the existing reserves.

“Other biodiversity could also benefit from the conservation actions targeting the bulbul.”

The study’s other authors are brothers Lim Kim Seng and Lim Kim Chuah, Ms Trixie Tan and Mr Teo Siyang.

The study made use of more than 15 years’ data of the NSS’ Annual Bird Census and the authors paid tribute to such regular surveys and the support of volunteers.

Mr Lim Kim Seng, the society’s coordinator of the annual census, said that citizen science efforts to monitor wild bird populations in Singapore have been led by the NSS’ Bird Group since 1986.

“On a predetermined morning, scores of enthusiastic members will sacrifice sleep to be out in the wild at their assigned sites, counting the birds for the census,” he said.

“Over the past two decades, these censuses have allowed us to track population trends of threatened species such as the globally endangered Straw-headed bulbul.”

While encroachment and trapping pressures are lower in Singapore than elsewhere in South-east Asia, the authors said that some pressures exist in the form of habitat loss — the bird has been found in areas of unprotected secondary woodland that were later cleared.

Potentially invasive bird species such as the White-crested laughingthrush may also compete with the bulbul for food, and the population in Singapore may be vulnerable to inbreeding and diseases, they said.

The authors called for a species recovery plan coordinated by stakeholders across Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. In Singapore, the authorities could work with non-governmental organisations and zoos to designate the Straw-headed bulbul a flagship species for conservation since it is “easy to identify by amateur naturalists”.


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Cost of operating Singapore’s water system more than doubled from 2000 to 2015: PUB

Lianne Chia Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: In 2000, it cost half a billion dollars to operate Singapore’s water system. But by 2015, the amount had gone up to S$1.3 billion, national water agency PUB said on Thursday (Feb 23).

In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia, a PUB spokesperson said that the amount includes water treatment, reservoir operations, NEWater production, desalination, used water collection and treatment, and the maintenance of the islandwide network of water pipelines.

In this year’s Budget statement, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that water prices would increase by 30 per cent in two phases over the next two years. This is the first time in 17 years that the Government is revising water prices.

In his speech, Mr Heng added that water prices need to reflect the rising costs associated with supplying water.

PUB said that this includes costs like chemicals, materials and manpower. As Singapore develops and operates its water supply system in an increasingly urbanised environment, more expensive methods of development are also needed, it added.

“For example, laying pipelines in built-up areas requires a more expensive method of pipe-jacking as compared to a conventional open cut method,” said PUB.

Furthermore, since the last water price revision in 2000, it has had to deal with rising resource costs and more expensive methods of development. Major investments were also made in water infrastructure.

PUB said it invested a total of about S$7 billion in water infrastructure from 2000 to 2015.

But in the next five years alone, from 2017 to 2021, its investment will be about S$4 billion.

“This is to meet growing demand and to boost the resilience of the water system, especially to face the challenges posed by climate change,” it said.

- CNA/lc

Operating cost of water system jumped S$0.8b in 15 years
Today Online 24 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — It cost about S$1.3 billion to operate Singapore’s water system in 2015, compared with S$0.5 billion in 2000, national water agency PUB has disclosed.

Over those 15 years, it invested about S$7 billion in water infrastructure, and will pump in about S$4 billion over the next five years from 2017 to 2021 to boost the infrastructure and resilience of the water system to meet growing demand.

The agency shared these figures in response to TODAY’s queries on how it determined the 30 per cent hike in water price that was announced in the Budget statement on Monday.

The increase includes all the components of the total water price, namely the water tariff, the water conservation tax and used water charges.

PUB said that in 2015, the S$1.3 billion was spent on water treatment, reservoir operations, NEWater production, desalination, used water collection and treatment, and the maintenance of the island-wide network of water pipelines, among others.

“Over the last 17 years, costs have increased and adjustments are needed to reflect the latest costs of water supply. The increase in water price will also allow us to continue investing ahead of time so all of us can continue to enjoy a high quality and reliable water supply,” a PUB spokesperson said.

Water is priced to reflect the cost of water supply and the scarcity value of water, PUB said.

The total water price is pegged to the long-run marginal cost of water supply — or how much it costs to supply and convey the next drop of water, which is likely from desalination and NEWater.

Speaking at Channel NewsAsia’s Singapore Budget Forum yesterday, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said that he understands the public’s concerns over the price hike, but added that “there is never an ideal time” to raise prices. He highlighted that “water for us is a matter of national survival ... of strategic importance”.

Water prices will go up by July next year, and a partial increase will take effect on July 1 this year. From S$2.10 per cubic metre, domestic users will pay S$2.39 from July 1, and S$2.74 a year later.

Mr Wong said the Government would give out Goods and Services Tax vouchers to help households offset the increases.

“We are mindful that everyone may be in different circumstances and even the rebates might not be enough for some, so we will look at different ways to help them … There is a range of local financial assistance schemes, including through ComCare, that we can provide for those in need,” he said.


Never an ideal time for water price hike: Lawrence Wong
Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong has said he understands the concerns that many people have over the water price increase, but "there is never an ideal time" for a rise.

Speaking at Channel NewsAsia's Singapore Budget Forum which was broadcast on Thursday (Feb 23), Mr Wong said the Government had deliberated this very carefully.

“There are indeed concerns about our supply including the state of Linggiu reservoir. So when you look at the overall situation and bearing in mind that water for us is a matter of national survival, it’s a matter of strategic importance, we felt that we have to make the increase now,” he explained.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had announced during his Budget speech on Monday that water prices will be increased by 30 per cent in two phases starting Jul 1. The increase will be less than S$25 a month for three-quarters of businesses, and less than S$18 for 75 per cent of households, once fully phased in.

Highlighting that the Government will be giving out GST vouchers to help households offset the increases in water prices, Mr Wong said there are other schemes to help families in exceptionally difficult circumstances.

“We are mindful that everyone may be in different circumstances and even the rebates might not be enough for some, so we will look at different ways to help them … There is a range of local financial assistance schemes, including through ComCare, that we can provide for those in need," he said.

CARBON TAX: FOLLOWING UP ON CLIMATE CHANGE PLEDGE

Mr Wong also addressed business concerns about potential cost increases on manufacturing arising from a carbon tax to be implemented from 2019. “We are very mindful of this and that’s why we are not the first to have a carbon price or a carbon tax. We have looked at other jurisdictions and we are starting with a carbon tax in the range of what other jurisdictions are doing,” he said.

Japan, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland are among those reported to have implemented a carbon tax. Singapore would be the first country in Southeast Asia to do so.

Mr Wong said what is more important is for the carbon tax to shape businesses models and investment decisions for companies, especially those in the power and petrochemicals sectors. For instance, businesses could consider investing in less carbon intensive and more energy efficient forms of technology.

Mr Wong highlighted the importance of tackling climate change and keeping to Singapore’s international commitments. “We made a pledge and in Singapore, when we make a pledge we follow through on the pledge, so this is our way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and doing our part to fight climate change.”

Singapore signed the Paris Agreement in 2016 along with nearly 200 other countries. It is the most comprehensive climate change agreement, which set a target to cut emissions intensity by 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

DON’T LEAVE A DEBT FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS

Mr Wong also touched on another announcement of concern for businesses and Singaporeans - the possibility of an increase in taxes in the future.

“We don’t overspend and leave a debt for future generations to bear - that has not been our philosophy … our philosophy in Singapore has always been that we work hard so that our next generation can have a better life," he said. "So I think it’s our responsibility to now start thinking about where the revenue streams are that can help cover all these increases in expenses. We will make a decision in good time.”

But Mr Wong also pointed out the importance of remaining competitive. He said: “Whatever we do, (we have to) make sure we still keep our economy competitive and dynamic. If we can grow and create jobs, we can also provide the resources to ensure that all Singaporeans benefit.”

Speaking on the programme, Maybank Kim Eng Research senior economist Chua Hak Bin agreed that there are challenges in ensuring a sustainable fiscal position. “It’s interesting that the tax review is taking place at the same time there is competition from the rest of the world. Thailand has cut its (corporate income) tax rate to 20 per cent. Indonesia and the US are contemplating cutting (corporate income) taxes to 15 per cent.”

Mr Wong agreed, but pointed out that tax incentives are not the only tools in Singapore’s arsenal to attract investments and foreign companies: “Tax is not the only lever we have in competition … it’s a wrap around strategy, where you provide land, training, logistics for companies and I think that is what we are good at.”

- CNA/sl


Water price hike a key concern at post-Budget forum
FARIS MOKHTAR Today Online 24 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — The impending increase in water prices was a key issue raised at a post-Budget forum yesterday, with participants voicing concerns over whether rebates would help to mitigate the higher costs, as well as the trickle-down effect that the hikes would have on prices of other goods, such as coffee and tea.

Attended by about 120 members of the public, the forum — organised by public feedback unit Reach — was the first such exercise held since the Budget was unveiled on Monday.

Since the Budget statement was delivered, REACH has received more than 1,000 items of feedback through its platforms, with the top three concerns raised being the water price hike, support for young families and the personal income tax rebate.

Taking the first three questions from the participants who touched on the water price hike, before the session was closed to the media, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah, who chaired the session, reassured them that the U-Save (Utilities-Save) rebates, which the Government will be giving out, would lessen the cost burden on households.

She noted that those living in one- and two-room flats will not, on average, see any increase in their monthly water bills, while families staying in three-room flats and above will see, on average, an increase of about S$2 to S$11 in their monthly water charges.

Announcing the Budget on Monday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said water prices will rise by 30 per cent from July 2018, with the first of two rounds of water price hikes to kick in this July.

Addressing the trickle-down effect that the water price increase would have on the cost of other goods such as coffee and tea, Ms Indranee stressed that the cost of such goods “should not and ought not” go up.

She noted that, currently, firms are charged S$2.15 per cubic litre for the portable water that they use, and after the full water price hike kicks in next year, this will go up to S$2.74 cents, an increase of 59 cents. This, she added, would have very minimal impact on the price of coffee and tea.

Speaking to reporters, Ms Indranee said that there is a need to price water based on market realities, to take into account the cost of producing water, such as manpower and infrastructure cost.

“When you get the right pricing and you just charge that completely down the line, obviously there will be people who are affected and who may not be able to afford it,” said Ms Indranee.

“So, what you do is you step in, you intervene and you assist, which we have in this case done with the U-Save rebates.”

However, some participants, such as 65-year-old retiree Teo Yeok Tee maintained that it is unfair to impose an increase across the board on the basis of wanting to encourage water conservation because there are households which do conserve water.

Others, such as Madam Chen Li Ying, 49, agreed with the move which would help to ensure a sustainable supply of water.

“But I think the Government could spread out the increase over three years instead of two years. This will really soften the blow for households, especially those struggling financially,” she added.


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7,300 Sec 3 students to have taken part in OBS programme by end-2017: MOE

Vanessa Lim Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: By the end of 2017, about 7,300 Secondary 3 students from 28 schools would have taken part in the five-day MOE-OBS outdoor education programme, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) in a media release on Thursday (Feb 23).

Launched by MOE and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), the MOE-OBS Secondary 3 Programme held at the Outward Bound Singapore's (OBS) premises at Pulau Ubin kicked off on Jan 9, 2017. Since then, more than 1,000 students from five schools have taken part.

Last year, MOE announced its National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan to promote the holistic development of students through outdoor education.

Through the programme, students will get opportunities to interact with one another and work together to overcome outdoor challenges, such as navigating through treks in Pulau Ubin and sailing between Pulau Ubin and Sembawang on the mainland.

To date, more than 600 teachers who are involved in outdoor education have been trained to conduct these activities. Another 500 teachers are expected to undergo professional development and refresher courses organised by the ministry this year, MOE said.

MOE has also worked with the National Institute of Education to strengthen pre-service training for Physical Education (PE) teachers. Earlier this year, it extended an existing one-day outdoor education workshop to a full module to better equip PE teachers to teach outdoor education.

In addition, a new OBS campus built on Coney Island will be ready from 2020. The five-day outdoor education programme will then be rolled out to all secondary schools, and will see about 45,000 students taking part each year.

- CNA/dl


More than 7,000 students expected to complete OBS by end-2017: MOE
ALFRED CHUA Today Online 24 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — More than 1,000 students from five schools have participated in a five-day expedition camp at Outward Bound Singapore, nearly two months after an initiative to see all Secondary 3 students go through the programme by 2020 kicked off.

The programme is part of the National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan announced last year, and the Ministry of Education (MOE) said that by the end of this year, some 7,300 students from 28 secondary schools would have gone through the programme in over 20 runs.

The masterplan was launched to develop resilience among students. The ministry said that from this year, trainee Physical Education teachers at the National Institute of Education (NIE) will undergo a compulsory, full outdoor education module of 12 hours over six weeks.

Currently, trainee teachers go for a one-day workshop in outdoor education. Through the module, trainee PE teachers will acquire deeper knowledge and skills in theory and practice, said the ministry.

It will also beef up training for teachers and outdoor adventure educators, with another 500 teachers to undergo professional development and refresher courses organised by the MOE.

To date, some 600 teachers involved in outdoor education have been trained to conduct activities such as high-element challenge courses in their schools.

Speaking during a visit to the OBS campus on Pulau Ubin yesterday, Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said the MOE-OBS Secondary 3 programme “brings together a holistic aspect of education … that many of our children don’t get to enjoy”.

“Outdoor education lends a different form of learning … where they react to the environment, put all their resources together,” he said.

“In the future environment, where we know there are less certainties, the academic learning and this outdoor learning come together very well to prepare our kids holistically.”

Yesterday marked the fourth day of the programme’s third run, in which about 350 students from both Tanjong Katong Girls School and Whitley Secondary School came together.

For some, it was the first time working with group mates of the opposite gender.

Sophia Rose Meyers, 15, from Tanjong Katong Girls School, said the camp had widened her social circle. “Because we are a school (with only express-stream classes), I don’t really get to associate with people from different streams,” she said. “I felt like this camp allowed me to be more open-minded and bond with the people who I don’t usually interact with,” she added.

Jordan Low, 15, from Whitley Secondary School, said that while it was “awkward at the start”, there ended up being mutual sharing between both schools about school life, among other topics.

The camp programme is co-designed by MOE and OBS, and in partnership with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. A new OBS campus will also be built on Coney Island. ALFRED CHUA


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Pre-schoolers to get more time for physical activities: NurtureSG taskforce

Chan Luo Er, Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Children will get to participate in more physical activities in and outside school, as part of recommendations by the NurtureSG taskforce, which was set up in April last year to look into how young Singaporeans can be encouraged to adopt healthy habits.

Its proposals, which were released on Thursday (Feb 23), also include better nutrition as well as a stronger emphasis on mental health and good sleeping habits, from the pre-school to tertiary level.

At pre-schools, the minimum amount of time that children should spend on physical activities will be increased, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) in a joint news release on Thursday.

For children on full-day programmes, they will get at least one hour of physical activities daily, up from 30 minutes currently. Half of the one hour will be spent outdoors, under a new framework by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). Pre-school teachers will be given educational resources on conducting outdoor lessons.

Students in mainstream schools already had their time for Physical Education (PE) classes increased as announced in 2010. They will now get more opportunities to be involved in "unstructured play beyond the formal curriculum time". During recess time or after-school hours, schools will make available facilities and sports equipment, said the joint release.

In addition, the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) healthier meals programme will be stepped up not only in pre-schools but also schools at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

By this year, the Healthier Meals in Schools Programme will be rolled out to all mainstream schools, where canteens will provide healthier food and drink options. A total of 319 of the 359 primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges are already on the programme. And the plan is for canteens in all institutes of higher learning to serve healthier meals by 2019, said MOE and MOH.

SUPPORTING MENTAL WELL-BEING

There is also an emphasis on students' mental well-being, to help them manage stress and seek help from their peers if needed.

"The taskforce recognises that students experiencing mental stress may not always approach their parents or teachers for help," said the joint release, so peer support structures will be set up in mainstream schools and institutes of higher learning, "to equip students to look out for signs of mental stress among their peers".

An inter-agency research workgroup to study suicides, suicidal and self-harm behaviours in children and youths will also be set-up. The workgroup, led by Associate Professor Daniel Fung from the Institute of Mental Health, will provide an interim report at the end of a year.

The Tote Board has also set aside up to S$10 million to look at ideas from the community on how to achieve better mental well-being and resilience in the young. It will also fund the Institute of Mental Health to support the training of service providers such as voluntary welfare organisations to collect and evaluate data for research purposes.

The NurtureSG taskforce submitted the recommendations earlier this month and they have been accepted by MOH and MOE.

- CNA/gs

Parents, wanting better lifestyle for their kids, welcome recommendations
JEONG HONGBIN Today Online 24 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Concerned that her three-year-old son might be spending too much time playing games on the iPad, Ms Evelyn Chua, 33, occasionally takes him out on weekends to spend some time outdoors.

As such, the NurtureSG Taskforce recommendation for pre-schools to offer at least an hour of physical activity daily — with 30 minutes spent outdoors — was welcomed by Ms Chua, who believes it could make up for the time her son spends indoors using electronic devices.

Other parents TODAY interviewed agreed, even those who already set aside time for sports and the outdoors for their children on weekends.

Ms Karen Teo, a mother of a four-year-old and two-year-old, makes sure they spend at least two hours on weekends outdoors playing football, swimming or going to the playground. But on weekdays, she has less oversight of her four-year-old’s time in pre-school. “If they go outdoors for at least 30 minutes a day, they will behave better,” she said.

Another parent, Mr Edwin Cheng, 35, spends almost every weekend cycling at parks or taking walks with his son. He welcomed having an extra hour of physical activity each day for his son, but noted that this may not be feasible for children who only attend pre-school for short hours.

The NurtureSG Taskforce, set up to study how young Singaporeans can be encouraged to adopt healthy habits, released a set of recommendations yesterday, which has been accepted by the Government. Apart from requiring increased physical activity, pre-schools will also have to meet nutritional requirements, such as not serving sugary drinks or deep-fried food to children.

Among the pre-schools, bigger players such as EtonHouse and NTUC’s My First Skool are confident that they will be able to meet the new requirements, pointing out that they already offer physical activity in their curriculum, while unhealthy foods have been axed from their menus.

EtonHouse said that it dedicates 45 minutes to two hours a day to outdoor and physical play for pre-schoolers, such as yoga. My First Skool, which runs 120 pre-schools islandwide, noted that it is already accredited under the Health Promotion Board’s Healthy Meals in Childcare Centre Programme, under which it encourages children to eat fruits and vegetables daily, and incorporates health facts and information into their daily learning.

Star Learners, a pre-school in the Thomson area, said it was worried that setting aside more time for physical activities might affect the time needed for other activities.

Principal Jerrica Lok said, “Some curriculum may need to be sacrificed ... It could be achievable if the hour can be split between the morning ... and at the end of the day.”


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Tuas fire: Half of plant affected, says Eco Special Waste Management CEO

Lee Li Ying Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: About half of Eco Special Waste Management's plant in Tuas was affected by the blaze on Thursday morning (Feb 23), CEO Rick Reidinger told Channel NewsAsia.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force was alerted at 6.15am of the fire and sent 200 firefighters to quell the blaze, which it said involved chemical waste and flammable materials. It took four hours to be put out and one firefighter was sent to hospital for heat exhaustion, but no other casualties were reported, it added.

Mr Reidinger said the company has about 300 employees and "20 to 30" of them were likely in the plant when the fire broke out, but he confirmed that no one was hurt in the blaze.

He added the other half of the plant was "undamaged" and hoped that it can be up "within the next few days to a week".

The company is currently investigating the cause of the fire, but it said there were at least "S$5 million to S$10 million worth of fire safety features in the plant".

"We have a special store for hazardous waste because we are aware it's flammable. We had a segmented storage area separated by firewalls, with sprinklers and other fire protection features like foam, and special drainage features," he said.

Eco Special Waste Management's director, Amy Liu, who was also at the incident site, told Channel NewsAsia that it has about 500 clients, and to minimise business disruptions, is now in talks with five other companies to help service these clients.

The company's plant had previously caught fire in May 2012 but the fire was contained in the incinerator and put out in 30 minutes by four fire engines, according to past reports.

- CNA/kk



Tuas blaze: Fire was 'big like a volcano', says eyewitness
Channel NewsAsia 23 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Security officer Subramaniam Krishnan did not expect to witness a fire the size of a "volcano" when he got to work on Thursday morning (Feb 23).

Mr Subramaniam, who works at a factory close to the scene of the fire at a waste management plant, said he was having coffee when he heard two loud sounds. At first, he did not think anything was unusual as he often hears similar sounds from the stacking of containers at a yard next door.

It was the third explosion that caught his attention.

"The third sound was quite different from the first. It's like a bomb sound," he told Channel NewsAsia. "I could feel tremors."

Mr Subramaniam then received a call from one of his security officers, who asked if he heard the sounds as well.

"We rushed to the fourth floor, the rooftop. I saw it was a big fire ... Then I did a quick video recording," Mr Subramaniam recounted. "My officers, they quickly evacuated our cleaners. Some of the staff who arrived in the morning, we got them out."

About nine people were evacuated from Mr Subramaniam's workplace between 6.30am and 6.45am, he said.

The security officer said he "quietly panicked" when he saw the size of the fire from the rooftop of his workplace. "Suddenly, at the canal, there was a big sound. A loud bang. Suddenly the fire caught up, I don't know where the fire came from, suddenly I could see the fire, so big like a volcano," he said. "That made me a bit panicked. So I quickly rushed down to the ground floor."

Channel NewsAsia understands that the fire had spread to nearby areas through canals.

Mr Subramaniam said he could "feel the heat" of the blaze when recording a video of the incident, and that there was a toxic smell.

"The fire was burning all the way. Very scary. The trees (were) confirmed burnt, the grass (was) all burnt," he said, adding that he also saw smoke emitting from manholes in the area.

"This is a kind of fire I have never seen," the security officer said. "A few things (have) happened in the Tuas area, this is the biggest as (far as) I know - very scary."

It took 200 firefighters from the Singapore Civil Defence Force four hours to extinguish the blaze. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

- CNA/dl


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Malaysia: Cruising along Johor river

The Star 24 Feb 17;

KOTA TINGGI: Tourists can now explore another side of the state through a two-hour boat ride which stops at villages along the Johor river here.

The cruise package is a joint collaboration by the Southeast Johor Development Authority (Kejora) and Panz Adventures@Media Kota group.

The cruise aims to promote tourism products offered by villages along the 70km including Kampung Kelantan, Kampung Makam and Kampung Panchor, among others.

Kejora general manager Norazman Othman said that the authority would allocate between RM3mil and RM5mil yearly to promote the tourism products of 66 villages located between Pengerang and Taman Sri Lambak in Kluang.

“The money will be used to upgrade jetties especially in the Kota Tinggi district, for boat maintenance as well as other activities.

“We also organise courses for boat operators and provide classes for those who wish to obtain a licence to operate the boats,” he told reporters during a press conference at Kampung Johor Lama here

Norazman added that Kejora would review the effectiveness of the programme through the number of tourists taking part as well as the sales of products sold by the villagers.

“Each village has its own unique offerings in terms of the food, tradition and culture and even recreational parks,” he added.

Over 30 media members as well as personnel from Kejora and local authorities participated in the river cruise programme, stopping at Kampung Panchor and Kampung Johor Lama.

Participants were given the opportunity to learn about the history of the villages as well as their local specialities including homemade food before heading to the Teluk Sengat Crocodile Farm.

Panz Adventures @ Media Kota manager Shahrool Anuar Rohani said that the initiative was launched in December last year.

image: http://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2017/02/24/cruising-along-johor-river-passengers-explore-other-side-of-state-and-stop-at-villages-along-route/~/media/9be89e5ad1d64890bcc4a89abf2bcec0.ashx?h=281&w=500

Among the places the cruise will stop at is the Teluk Sengat Crocodile Farm in Kota Tinggi.
Among the places the cruise will stop at is the Teluk Sengat Crocodile Farm in Kota Tinggi.
“The fare is RM150 and RM85 for an adult and child respectively,” he said adding children below the age of nine travel for free, subject to terms and conditions.

Shahrool said they can accommodate 34 people on the boat, including two crew members and two tour guides. \

Refreshments are provided.

For information, go to www.facebook.com/panzmediakota


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‘Paris agreement not enough’ to prevent catastrophic coral bleaching, marine biologists warn

'There’s huge danger in thinking we can climate-proof coral reefs. We have to start tackling the root cause of this'
Harry Cockburn The Independent 24 Feb 17;

Current targets for reducing damaging greenhouse gas emissions are not enough to prevent catastrophic loss of the world’s coral reefs, marine biologists have warned.

Rising sea surface temperatures are having a devastating effect on coral reefs, many of which are forecast to see severe coral bleaching for an unparalleled fourth year in a row.

Temperature rises mean bleaching events, which can kill coral, will occur with increasing frequency, unless drastic action is taken to stop global climate change, studies suggest.

In Australia, a heatwave which has caused record-breaking temperatures and wildfires, has also meant no relief for the Great Barrier Reef, which was ravaged by heat-induced bleaching last year, killing swathes of the coral.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has called for government action to address the problem which is expected to worsen as temperatures rose above 47C in parts of Australia.

Satellite thermal imaging of the area has revealed that waters are unusually warm, and the reef has been put on red alert for further significant bleaching.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Director Imogen Zethoven said: “Signs of new coral bleaching in February, plus the likelihood of extensive severe bleaching and even mortality in the next four weeks, is extremely concerning.”

“Last year we witnessed the worst bleaching event on record for our reef. Tragically between 50 and 85 per cent of corals perished between Cape York and Lizard Island. Over the entire reef, 22 per cent of corals are dead.”

The society has called on the Australian government to end its support for the coal industry and begin a “rapid move to renewables”.

Last month, Japan’s environment ministry reported that over 70 per cent of the country’s largest coral reef was “dead” after sea temperatures were between one and two degrees Celsius higher than normal.

Coral bleaching occurs when stresses such as higher water temperatures cause the corals to expel symbiotic photosynthetic algae, draining them of all colour and eventually causing them to die.

Coral bleaching is not uncommon, and bleaching events usually occur somewhere on the planet every year. However, the increasing frequency of the shocks mean the coral does not have adequate time to recover.

The current global coral bleaching event is the longest and most widespread ever recorded.

A 2016 study into the phenomenon predicted that annual severe bleaching events could become the norm by 2043.

Dr Gareth Williams of Bangor University, who worked on the study, told The Independent that though the situation was “terrifying”, action can be taken to help prevent catastrophic loss of coral.

He said: “There’s a double edged sword at the moment, and humans are at the root of both problems.

“Evolutionary processes mean [the coral] is designed to take environmental shocks. Key processes help them to recover between these events.

“But many of our local impacts such as fishing and pollution are eroding those critical recovery functions.

“And the second problem, which is more terrifying, is that the speed they are getting hit with environmental shocks is increasing. Even if those recovery mechanisms are in place so that the reef can recover in between shocks, the shocks are coming so close together there’s not even time for these processes to kick in.”

Dr Williams said that the problem was not just confined to reefs close to human activity, but warming seas are also having an impact on coral in some of the planet’s most isolated areas.

“If you go to some of the world’s most remote reefs, away from direct human impacts such as fishing and pollution, they are still suffering the effects of these warmer conditions,” he said.

“The critical thing here is that we have to tackle global climate change. But what will save coral reefs is a planet-wide multi-government co-ordinated effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“There’s huge danger in thinking we can climate-proof coral reefs. That’s a dangerous idea. We have to start tackling the root cause of this, and the root cause is global climate change.”

He added: “The Paris agreement is good example of a co-ordinated effort to try and curb greenhouse gas emissions, and if we stick to it, it will reduce greenhouse gases, but even if we adhere to it, it won’t buy that much more time for reefs.

“It’s optimistic at best. We need to go beyond the Paris agreement. But of course we have to start somewhere.”


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Best of our wild blogs: 23 Feb 17



Singapore’s Budget 2017: How it impacts our environment
WWF-Singapore


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