Hello fellow countrymen and women,

As of about an hour ago, the PSI has hit 152 – the highest level since 2006. While I understand this is a concern to many on the island, here are my two cents worth on the issue:-

1) Please quit living in a bubble and come to terms with reality that beyond the efficient, clean and green [sterile] concrete island shores, the increasing frequency and intensity of environmental degradation/pollution/disasters/floods is real. Sh*t happens.

2) When you’re done complaining, please spare some time to think about how such adverse environmental events occur in the first place. Aside from poor governance, ineffective implementation at the local level, corruption in our neighbouring countries [the usual bla bla..], sometimes our consumerist demands for paper and other products that support our “first world” economic development is a contributing factor.

3) Perhaps we can think of alternative solutions rather than depend on the “gahmen” to fix it. There are those among us that are already doing great work in other Southeast Asian countries — whether it be in disaster relief efforts, helping to provide clean water supply and proper sanitation in remote areas, or teaching a kid to read and write. What’s stopping us from (for example) thinking of ways to possibly provide alternative sources of livelihood or new technology to poor communities that are engaged in the activities that we are forever complaining about?

A long, tedious and complex process, yes. Impossible, maybe not.

At the very least, it would be an effort to know our neighbours better and be grateful for what we have.

That is all.

Hugs and kisses from smokey Jay-Kay-Tee*.

Indonesia. Isn't it beautiful?
Indonesia. Isn’t it beautiful?

*Jakarta, Indonesia

Nuclear energy protests in the immediate wake of the Fukushima Nuclear crisis in Japan (Credit: SandoCap / flickr.)
Nuclear energy protests in the immediate wake of the Fukushima Nuclear crisis in Japan (Credit: SandoCap / flickr.)

Civil nuclear energy policy in Southeast Asia has seen sharp swings recently. Prior to the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear crisis in March 2011, several ASEAN member states had been actively pursuing nuclear energy. Fukushima compelled some to re-evaluate their plans. Thailand delayed the construction of its first nuclear power plant. In the Philippines, it became more difficult to gain public support to reactivate the Bataan nuclear reactor. Meanwhile, Japan pledged to phase out nuclear energy. Two years on, however, the momentum has reversed. Japan is now taking a more pro-nuclear stance, and some countries in Southeast Asia have revived their nuclear plans.

What is behind the rapid policy about-turn? This NTS Insight argues that while the discourse post-Fukushima has emphasised safety and energy governance, economic and strategic interests remain primary drivers of civil nuclear energy use in Southeast Asia.

To read the full article, please click here.

RSIS Centre for NTS Studies' Year in Review 2012
RSIS Centre for NTS Studies’ Year in Review 2012

Think saving the planet is that easy? Think again.

If trying to understand the complex interactions between sciences, economics, culture, politics, security and global/regional frameworks is just not working for you and you’re close to giving up, then check this out.

For the fourth year running, the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies has released its Year in Review (2012). The Year in Review provides a snapshot of dominant NTS events/issues in 2012, particularly affecting the Asia-Pacific region.

This year’s publication focuses on the role of institutions in NTS and its feature article is on developments in Myanmar. Articles following that are based on the 5 themes: Climate, Energy, Food, Health and Water. The publication also includes a summary of activities and publications produced by the centre in 2012.

To view the report [in pdf], click here.

Heavy rains in Thailand and Cambodia since July 2011 have resulted in high socio-economic costs from flood damage and has claimed at least 500 lives. For Thailand with areas only two metres above sea level, the flood is said to be the country’s worst in the past 50 years, with a third of its provinces declared disaster zones. However, such incidents are not all that new nor unexpected, for two main reasons:

Picture by Philip Roeland

Firstly, various studies have highlighted the increasing vulnerability of Southeast Asian countries to weather–related disasters. Among these is the Report by the International Development Research Centre, which has highlighted areas in Southeast Asia that are highly vulnerable to various environmental hazards. Similarly, other reports, such as those by the World Bank, United Nations and World Wide Fund have highlighted the socio-economic factors that increase vulnerabilities, such as rising population densities in cities. Secondly, there is existing knowledge and solutions to control floods, based on the region’s long experience with disasters. These factors are particularly significant in Southeast Asia, which is home to at least three megacities – Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila.

Yet, in spite of such information, there remains a strong dose of inertia within states to effectively integrate climate change adaptation strategies with disaster preparedness…

To read the rest of this commentary published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies [in pdf],  please click here.

Recent media reports on the new wave of floods and landslides around the world have yet again highlighted the critical need for disaster preparedness and contingency plans to address the increasing intensity of weather related disasters. However, what has also played out more significantly in these incidents have been weather-related disasters’ direct adverse implications on sources of energy and economic development.

No Drive Thru, here.

This was particularly evident in Australia where the flooding of Queensland’s coal mines are predicted to cause an increase in the price of steelmaking coal as high as $500 per tonne , thus affected more than 90 per cent of Australia’s exports. The economic costs of recovering from the floods are also proving to have indirect costs on other aspects of development, where the education and health sectors are expected to bear the flood’s clean up costs. Such costs would, however, only be the tip of the iceberg as other parts of the country are preparing for impending floods.

Given such effects on a developed country such as Australia, one cannot but imagine extensive damage that would occur in developing countries, which also face a range of  pre-existing concerns that include poverty, poor governance and the lack of capacity to address the increasing rate of intense weather related disasters. The recent floods in Sri Lanka for instance have highlighted adverse effects to food security and even possible complications in former conflict regions that have undetonated mines. While the Philippines continues to recover from the massive damage of Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, government officials need to also deal with the effects of weather related disasters in other less developed regions of the country.

The future is not all bleak as several studies have already noted the potential costs and risks of various weather related disasters as well as the necessary solutions available to address these climate vulnerabilities. The Asian Development Bank, for instance, has highlighted Southeast Asia’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change and the various measures can be taken to mitigate these effects, while UNESCAP has examined ways of reducing vulnerability to disasters, building resilience and protecting hard-won development gains.

Despite such policy recommendations, it is still difficult for countries – whether developed or developing – to effectively address these concerns. Difficulties in coordination amongst various levels of governance and strained resources remain to be sore points and to some extent outweigh capacity building measures that only often bear fruit in the long term. It is therefore necessary for states to demonstrate their commitment to working with local and regional communities in formulating long term solutions beyond the realm of disasters. States must ensure that communities play a proactive role  not only in mitigating and preparing for the disasters, but also are at the helm of local development initiatives that would be able to sustain themselves, rather than depend on national/federal inputs.

This blog post also appears on the MacArthur Asia Security Initiative Blog.


"Work Safely". Yah Right!

The demand for coal is set to increase over the coming years, especially among developing countries. However, while coal may be a cheap source of energy to facilitate economic development, it is costly in terms of the implications for human security. Coal mining has been seen to adversely impact local communities and cause sociopolitical instability. Long-term environmental sustainability is also negatively affected.

In a recent paper, a colleague and I examined  the extent to which governance mechanisms have been successful in mitigating these socioeconomic and environmental costs, with a focus on China and Indonesia. Our paper also assessed the effectiveness of current initiatives designed to address the various forms of human insecurities stemming from coal mining in the two countries.

To read the article, please click here

 

Here’s an RSIS commentary written by me and my colleague Devin on the prospects of UNFCCC talks in Cancun. Enjoy!

Abstract

Given the dismal results of COP15 in Copenhagen last year, there has been growing pessimism on the prospects of the forthcoming COP16 meeting in Cancun. Governments and civil society should push for a better outcome.

To view the commentary (in pdf format), please click here.

OK, so its been 3 months since the last blog post. Indeed, there has been quite a bit of activity, especially on TheGreenBush’s Twitter Account. I had never thought I would have been a fan of New Media, but it can be quite addictive… and also quite useful. Its increasingly becoming an important part of work and play. Here’s a slice of some highlights (related to the environment scene in Singapore).

 

1) Satu Hari Di Hari Raya

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/24253153799

 

2) The Inaugural Singapore Global Dialogue by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/25383243056

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/25387992518

 

3) The HAZE cometh… again!

In terms of catching a flight back to Singapore, turned out that Paris strikes was not the only thing to be anxious about.

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/28392075066

http://twitter.com/#!/thejakartaglobe/status/28578499385

http://twitter.com/#!/thejakartaglobe/status/28719842267

http://twitter.com/#!/eco_singapore/status/28906478981

 

4) Finally made my way to Green Drinks after months!

http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenBush/status/29003171869

Great conversation, and so looking forward to working with Olivia on a Green Drinks session on spirituality. Akan datang!

A lot more to look forward to and definitely a life that is far from boring. Kids who suggest that they don’t have anything to look forward to in Singapore, or are just so fixated on grades, clearly have not learned to live life to the fullest. A simple act of getting out of their comfort zone, would be a great start of doing them (and society in general) a whole lot of good.

Good luck Kids, the real world awaits you, whether you’re prepared or not.


ORCHARD ROAD IS FLOODED!!!! on Twitpic “HAAAH???! ORCHARD ROAD KENA FLOODED, AH?!” was a common phrase muttered (in true Singlish fashion)  by many shocked Singaporeans on 16 June 2010. Flash floods due to heavy rains that morning had temporarily inundated the heart of Singapore’s iconic shopping stretch at around 10am.  I must admit, I was initially shocked as well. While there have been a series of flash floods happening in other parts of Singapore, never in the past 20 years had this glitzy part of town been engulfed by a sea of “Milo”.

But in true Singapore fashion, government response to the emergency was swift. Civil defense forces were on site pumping the clogged water in the basement carparks and lower levels of shopping centres. Sometime just after lunch,  most of the milo had been cleared away.

Aside from shock, there were also  some other feelings expressed. For one, there seemed to be a morbid sense of amusement, for the fact that this (plus the numerous trees falling along the roads and expressways) was perhaps the most “exciting” thing to happen in Singapore since the last major Earthquake in Indonesia, whose tremors rippled through the concrete island.

But then again, can you really blame them? While Singapore has been blessed with a relatively highly efficient and functioning system, it inevitably makes us assume a sense of immunity, and thus perceive even a minor mishap to be a major disaster. This has been reflected in feelings of anxiety and paranoia of such “disasters”.

“OMG how could THIS happen to SINGAPORE?! Impossible!! It looks like Jakarta!”

But seriously, how could it not happen to Singapore? An island situated in the tropics with neighbouring regions highly susceptible to cyclones – how could it not? Singapore is clearly not an exception.

Accompanying such anxiety would be a tendency to complain and start a blame game.  Government officials have provided an explanation to what caused the Orchard road flood, which stated that despite the Stamford Canal drainage system’s ability to withstand the high level of rainfall,  large amounts of debris/vegetation built up in Stamford Canal, had caused the blockage within the canal. So who’s to blame here? The public for littering? Or perhaps even the effects of urbanisation that causes greater likelihood of soil erosion? More criticism came after subsequent flooding in other parts of the island later that week.

Whatever the case maybe, it is important that the people of Singapore realise that our disasters are merely a tip of the iceberg of what the “real world” across the seas are facing. The failure to be resilient in such minor incidents, may not equip us enough for tougher situations. Disaster preparedness cannot be ensured  from the top-down, but must also be the responsibility of the masses, wherein they are able to face challenges without assuming the need for the state to intervene to alleviate their discomfort. (That said, there was certainly resilience amongst the numerous women that braved the Orchard Road flood for the Mango sale!)

For Pete’s sake, its just a flashflood. Let’s Get Real, Not Hysterical.