Striking images reveal how sulphur miners in Indonesia risk their lives to brave toxic fumes from an active volcano for just £3 a day

Striking images have revealed the brutal daily reality faced by workers at one of the most unpleasant jobs in the world.

Men working in Ijen – a volcanic range stretching across East Java, Indonesia – have a short life expectancy due to the punishing conditions they face every day in the depths of the mines.

The intrepid workers clamber over sharp rock faces, braving sheer drops from the side of the 2,800-metre-high (around 9,200 feet) active volcano which could erupt at any time.

The sulphur miners risk their lives daily for a pittance – they are paid as little as £3 ($3.70) a day, working 12 hour shifts to break up solidified sulphur then carry it out of the volcano crater floor.

Around 200 miners work at the site, carrying loads ranging from 75 kg (165lbs) to 90 kg (200lbs), which they sell to a nearby sugar refinery

Around 200 miners work at the site, carrying loads ranging from 75 kg (165lbs) to 90 kg (200lbs), which they sell to a nearby sugar refinery

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4330784/Sulphur-miners-risk-lives-brave-active-volcano.html#ixzz4k9ia9xwM

Food trade drains global water sources at ‘alarming’ rates

The global market for foodstuffs is depleting water sources in many parts of the world quicker than they can naturally be refilled.

The complex trade is increasing pressure on non-renewable groundwater, mainly used for irrigating crops such as rice, wheat and cotton.

Pakistan, the US and India are the countries exporting the most food grown with unsustainable water.

Researchers say that without action, food supplies will be threatened.

Around 43% of the water used to irrigate crops around the world comes from underground aquifers, as opposed to rivers and lakes. Many of these sources are being used up quicker than they can be refilled from rainfall.

Back in 2000, experts believed that non-renewable resources sustained 20% of global irrigation. In the 10 years to 2010, this increased by more than a fifth.

 

 

Many developed countries are aware of issues in the depletion of groundwater and have put measures in place, such as urban water restrictions in California during the recent years of drought. However, in developing nations, the mechanisms to restrict water may not exist.

“Pakistan for instance is quite complex,” said Dr Dalin. “They can make good money out of exporting rice, but the framework is not really there to account for the impact on the environment. It is true that eventually it will affect the production there.”

The researchers argue that while governments need to have greater awareness about the impacts of production on water resources, consumers in richer countries should also think about water when considering the foods that they buy.

“The products that consumers buy at a supermarket may have very different environmental impacts depending on where they are produced and how they are irrigated,” said co-author Yoshihide Wada, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

“In order to help consumers make more sustainable choices about their food, producers should consider adding water labels that make these impacts clear.”

Source: http://www.bbc.com/

 

Far from people’s minds, but food security a looming issue

With the abundance of food – indeed managing food waste is a headache for policymakers – food security is probably the last thing on Singaporeans’ minds. An irony, some experts noted, given that more than 90 per cent of the food needed to feed the Republic’s population comes from overseas.

“Supermarkets are full of food… (but) Singapore (becomes) very vulnerable when there are major disturbances to the production of food,” said Professor Paul Teng, a food security expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). “In that sense, it’s easy (for Singaporeans) to get a false sense of food security… If there is a big pandemic tomorrow, nobody can move (food) around, how is Singapore going to react?”

Earlier this month, the issue of food security came under the spotlight, when the Government announced that new plots of farm land with longer leases have been set aside to promote high-tech farming. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong noted that growing food locally is another way to enhance food security, apart from diversifying Singapore’s food sources.

Food security has shot to the top of many countries’ agenda in recent years, due to the havoc on farmlands caused by climate change, explosive growth of the middle class in Asia and the resulting spike in food consumption, as well as unpredictable geo-politics and international relations – to name but a few factors. Over the past decade, the Government has embarked on extensive efforts to diversify its food sources. As a result, Singapore today imports food from 170 countries, up from 160 in 2007, according to data from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA). Over the same period, the number of countries from which Singapore imports fish increased from 70 to 80, for example, while the figure for fruit imports went up from 40 to 60.

Malaysia and Brazil are the top sources, with substantial supply from several other regional countries: More than a third (35 per cent) of Singapore’s supply of chicken, 17 per cent of fish, 93 per cent of duck and 76 per cent of eggs come from across the Causeway. Brazil accounts for almost half (47 per cent) of Singapore’s imported chicken, 30 per cent of pork, and 53 per cent of beef. Vietnam, India and Thailand are the major suppliers of rice to Singapore. In terms of fish imports, Indonesia (21 per cent) and Vietnam (20 per cent) are the other the main sources, although 77 other countries provide 42 per cent of Singapore’s supply.

While Singapore’s food security is not under any immediate threat, experts stressed the need for policymakers to start relooking its strategy – including ramping up domestic supply – in light of evolving global trends. While Singapore has a sound policy of building resilience in its food supplies, more needs to be done in an increasingly uncertain and volatile external environment, they said. “To talk about food security at (this) point in time without recognising (Singapore’s) vulnerability is kidding ourselves,” said Prof Teng, who stressed the need for better risk management by having key food sources that are more geographically diverse.

Policymakers will need to come up with new strategies, said Associate Professor Christopher Vas from Murdoch University. “They say, when things are not broken, don’t try and fix it… But as things continue to evolve, bilateral relations might get tenuous, sources of supply could be challenged,” said Assoc Prof Vas, who noted the risks of over-reliance on a country for one particular product.

THREATS AND CHALLENGES

In recent years, there was no shortage of global food scares and supply disruptions.

During the 2007 and 2008 global food crisis, which was caused by a myriad of factors including droughts and rising oil prices, Singaporeans had to pay more for food, as prices of imported food spiked 12.1 per cent on average. The authorities stepped in by reassuring the public that there was ample supply – including a two-month stockpile that rice importers are required to keep in government warehouses – and advised people against hoarding rice. Help was also on hand for less well-to-do families.

In 2014, prices of eggs rose when Malaysian farms were suspended from exporting eggs to Singapore after their eggs had been found to contain Salmonella Enteritidis — a bacterium that causes food poisoning. Most recently, Brazil was involved in a rotten-meat scandal in March, after its police found that major meatpackers had bribed health inspectors to keep rotten meat on the market.

Gradually, climate change and changing dietary preferences would tilt the balance of global food demand and supply, the experts said.

One of the biggest changes in the global food security landscape has been the dependency on trade for countries to secure their food supplies, noted Prof Teng, an adjunct senior fellow at RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies. “Even in the most secure countries like the US, they also import food. The reason is that no country produces everything it wants, mainly because the consumers, the society, has gotten more diverse in its demands for food,” he said.

This is particularly so in countries where a middle-class population is growing quickly, he added.

Globally, more protein is being consumed by people. To meet this demand, countries have to import even more animal feed, such as corn and soybeans, from countries in the Western Hemisphere.

On the supply side, there is also declining land and water resources for farming – the latter partly due to contaminated water, and the longer dry seasons or late monsoons which are symptoms of climate change.

Farmers around the world are also growing older but not enough millennials are willing to take over the job.

“The net result is that, from year to year, we’re not as certain of our food supplies as previously,” Prof Teng warned.

Apart from health scares, RSIS research fellow Tamara Nair, who does work on food security and hunger in the region, pointed out that geopolitical tensions and developments in countries where Singapore import food from could disrupt its supplies and affect prices, given how inter-connected the world is today. “Any socio-political tension in one of our major source countries will inevitably affect us in one way or another. They might decide to temporarily stop exports for instance, which can affect our supply briefly, at least until we activate our other sources,” she said. Neverthelesss, she noted that while there is rising protectionist sentiments, food trade is unlikely to suffer given that all countries benefit from it.

Apart from diversifying food sources, Professor William Chen, the director of Nanyang Technological University’s food, science and technology programme, noted the need to uphold food safety as well through stringent regulations. In extreme cases, food imports could potentially be used as a weapon if countries let their guard down, he said. “It is very important that we can pre-empt rather than react,” he said. This means developing new technology to detect suspicious substances in food, he added.

INCREASING ROBUSTNESS

Despite its high dependence on food imports, Singapore is regarded as one of the most food-secure countries around the world.

Still, other experts including Prof Teng argued that Singapore’s food security has to be measured more holistically, and take into account the Republic’s ability to withstand disruptions to its food supplies.

The global food crisis in 2007 and 2008 prompted the Singapore authorities to conduct a study to analyse the country’s food supply resilience.

In recent years, they have conducted sourcing trips abroad and started the practice of overseas contract farming. An example was the Sino-Singapore Jilin Food Zone in northeastern China.

First mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2008, the idea was for AVA to provide technical advice to the Jilin authorities to maintain a disease-free zone and subsequently, diversify Singapore’s food sources by regularly exporting key food items to the Republic.

But the 1,450 sq km food zone – roughly double the size of Singapore – has been hit by delays.

An integrated pig farm was initially slated to start exporting pork to Singapore by the end of 2014 but construction works for the project only began last month. As the zone’s first livestock project, it is expected to rear up to one million pigs, of which, some will be exported to Singapore.

Nevertheless, the initiative exported its first product to Singapore towards the end of last year, with the Fragrance 43ºN japonica rice being sold at FairPrice Xtra and FairPrice Finest outlets.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, Mr Yeo Chun Cheng, Ascendas-Singbridge Group executive vice-president of sustainable urban development, said the integrated pig farming project will be developed in two phases and the first batch of pork is expected to reach Singapore by 2019.

 

Farms here provide less than 10 per cent of Singapore’s overall food supply – namely fish, vegetables and eggs. Some experts felt there is scope to double it.

To that end, AVA has also urged local growers to invest in technology to maximise their agricultural produce, which is meant to be a buffer when overseas food supplies are disrupted.

Earlier this month, the Government announced that it would be releasing 60ha of land in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah for farms to boost the local food supply. This comes as the leases of 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang will expire in 2019.

The Government’s long-standing targets are for local farmers to provide 30 per cent of Singapore’s supply of eggs, 15 per cent of fish and 10 per cent of leafy vegetables. But the farms here have so far fallen short on two counts: They are producing 24 per cent of eggs and 10 per cent of fish. Nevertheless, the target for leafy vegetables has been exceeded (12 per cent).

GOVT EFFORTS

Responding to TODAY’s queries, Mr Melvin Chow, group director of AVA’s food supply resilience group, reiterated that given its heavy dependence on food imports, Singapore is “considerably exposed” to global price and supply fluctuations, as well as persistent threats of food supply disruption and food contamination internationally.

The country is also vulnerable to global driving factors, such as population growth, rising urbanisation and incomes, climate change, disease outbreaks and scarcity of resources, he added. “These trends are intensifying, and their interplay is heightening food security challenges more than ever,” he said.

To overcome these challenges, the AVA adopts three strategies: Food source diversification, internationalisation and local production.

Diversifying food sources would mitigate disruptions to food supply from a particular region, which can be caused by extreme weather and climate events. “By buying from many different sources, Singapore is better buffered against potential food shortages and price volatility,” said Mr Chow.

AVA said it is constantly exploring new overseas sources of food, provided that their internal food safety standards meet its criteria. Some new food sources include Sarawak where Singapore has been importing frozen pork from since 2015. Other examples include importing quail eggs from Malaysia since last year and hen eggs from Thailand from this year.

By venturing overseas, local farmers can open up new markets and overcome the land constraints in Singapore. They can also help enhance Singapore’s food security by, for instance, exporting their produce back to the Republic. Having our local food producers successfully operating overseas will strengthen our food security,” said Mr Chow. He cited the examples two local farms which have gone to other countries to develop vertical farms: Apollo Aquaculture in Brunei, and Sky Greens in Thailand and China.

Turning to the local agricultural production in Singapore, Mr Chow said this remains an important aspect of food security and forms a “crucial buffer” should overseas food supplies be disrupted.

AVA has been working with farmers to raise production through modern practices and technology, improve productivity, manage animal diseases, monitor water quality and promote local produce to consumers.

Farmers can also tap on AVA’s S$63million Agriculture Productivity Fund to modernise and invest in innovative technologies and advanced farming systems.

While these strategies have served Singapore well, Mr Chow said AVA will continue to “review current measures and develop new ones”. “We recognise that understanding and building resilience to the effects of climate change is an on-going effort,” he added.

MAKING FOOD SECURITY A PRIORITY

Beyond national strategies, Dr Tortajada said that attitudes have to change as well, in order to enhance Singapore’s food security. Citing the problem of food waste, she called for more investments in public education. “(Food wastage) is putting more pressure on the planet, in terms of land and water and you pollute more to bring food to the people who will throw it,” she said.

Last year, Singapore generated 791,000 tonnes of food waste. Of this amount, only 14 per cent was recycled.

Some experts pointed out that Singapore faces similar vulnerabilities when it comes to food and water. And while both are considered strategic resources critical to national security, there appears to be greater impetus from the Government to strive for self-sufficiency in water.

 

Source: http://www.todayonline.com/

Why are clouds dark before it rains?

Unlike atmospheric particles that scatter more blue light than other colors (making the sky blue), the tiny cloud particles equally scatter all colors of light, which together make up white light.

However, rain clouds are gray instead of white because of their thickness, or height.

That is, a cloud gets thicker and denser as it gathers more water droplets and ice crystals — the thicker it gets, the more light it scatters, resulting in less light penetrating all the way through it.

The particles on the underside of the rain cloud don’t have a lot of light to scatter to your eyes, so the base appears gray as you look on from the ground below.

Source: https://www.livescience.com/

As sea levels rise, Singapore prepares to stem the tide

With climate change will come rising sea levels, and while Singapore has taken steps to brace itself against the consequences, some experts say more can be done.

Sea levels are projected to rise between 0.25m and 0.76m towards the end of the century, according to Singapore’s Climate Action Plan published in 2016 by the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS).

As a low-lying island, the rise in sea level poses the most immediate climate change threat to Singapore, it said. Much of the country lies only 15m above the mean sea level, with about 30 per cent of the island less than 5m above the mean sea level.

So the authorities have been preparing early to safeguard Singapore.

In 2010, the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) carried out shoreline restoration works to stabilise a section of the beach at East Coast Park. This consisted of large sand-filled bags, laid several metres into the ground to be level with the low tide, helping to reduce sand erosion.

In 2011, the minimum land reclamation level in Singapore was raised from 3m to 4m above the mean sea level.

And last year, Singapore raised the coastal Nicoll Drive in Changi by up to 0.8m.

A 1km stretch of Nicoll Drive, next to Changi Beach, will be elevated by 80cm to prepare for rising sea levels due to climate change. PHOTO: ST FILE

 

The BCA is now conducting the Coastal Adaptation Study (CAS), which aims to safeguard the country’s long term coastal protection needs, and is expected to be completed by end 2017.

Today, over 70 per cent of Singapore’s coastline is protected with hard structures such as seawalls and rock slopes. While lauding the efforts, experts have pointed out various ways in which these can be boosted.

Visiting associate professor at the University of Adelaide Wong Poh Poh, who also served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, believes that another approach which could help is the use of amphibious architecture, which he points out is cheaper than raising land or building sea walls. Such buildings stay on the ground during dry times. But when water comes, they float on the surface, while their foundations anchor them to the ground.

He gave the example of amphibious homes in Maasbommel, the Netherlands, which have concrete barges anchoring light timber-frame construction on top.

Prof Wong also feels that Singapore should incorporate more natural methods using mangroves to protect coastlines. He stressed the importance of mangroves which help to dissipate waves and trap sediment, potentially serving as a flexible form of coastal defence while preventing erosion.

An Indonesian boy plants a mangrove at Ujong Pancu beach in Aceh Besar, Aceh province on April 22, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
“Utilising mangroves is not only less costly, if the process is done carefully, they are still able to be effective in protecting shorelines to keep up with rising sea levels, which hard methods such as sea walls are not able to adapt to,” he said.Assistant Professor Dan Friess, a mangrove expert at the NUS Department of Geography, explained: “Mangrove restoration isn’t new in Singapore, with examples on Pulau Semakau and Pulau Tekong, and steps are currently underway to assess the potential for restoration on Pulau Ubin too.”

Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the NUS Department of Geography pointed out that not many other countries have “similar constraints” like Singapore in terms of preparing for climate change – given its unique geographical circumstances as a low-latitude island city-state.

More research is needed to look at the impact of climate change on various parts of the urban system, noted Ms Helena Hulsman, associate director of Singapore operations at Deltares, which jointly undertakes applied research in water, subsurface and climate change with NUS under the knowledge alliance NUSDeltares.

Ms Hulsman suggested looking into coastal protection solutions through “building with nature”, giving examples of successful pilot studies of ecologically optimised coastal protection solutions in the Netherlands, using natural processes to increase wave dampening, reduce erosion and enhance soil stability.

Dr Aron Meltzner of Nanyang Technological University’s Earth Observatory of Singapore said there are overseas examples that Singapore can learn from. These include the Maeslant storm surge barrier in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, which augments a system of levees and dikes already in place, and the Thames Barrier, which is a movable flood barrier in the River Thames east of Central London.

A sailing ship travels past the Thames Barrier on its way upriver in London, Britain. PHOTO: REUTERS

 

There were regional fluctuations in sea levels long ago not due to global warming, and that could happen again in the future, exacerbating the effects of sea-level rise, said Dr Meltzner.

Assistant Professor Winston Chow from the NUS Department of Geography said in order to truly combat the problem of rising sea levels, more can also be done to “address the root cause of climate change” by relying more on non-fossil fuel energy sources such as solar energy or hydroelectric energy.

Ms Ria Tan, a nature enthusiast who runs the wildsingapore.com website, believes that the public and the Government need to have more conversations about these issues and how to solve them.

“I feel that more engagement has to be done in the face of rising sea levels as it is also a pressing issue that Singapore faces. More discussions and attention in this area can better allow agencies to understand the concerns of citizens and educate them on the issue, just like how the issue of water is heavily discussed,” said Ms Tan.

Prof Wong agrees that more open discussions have to be held by the Government with various groups within societies such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and citizens. He also feels that more people have to be trained to gain an expertise in climate change adaptations.

He said: “There is a lot more work to do if we truly want to combat rising sea levels and climate change.”

Source: http://www.straitstimes.com/

Lawsuits after the eruption of Mt Ontake

This news isn’t about new volcanic activity in Japan but rather the results of one of the most tragic volcanic events in the last few years. In September 2014, Ontake had a surprising phreatic (or phreatomagmatic) explosion. There was little in the way of clear signs that such a blast was going to occur beyond some volcanic earthquakes that started in the week before the eruption. Ontake is a very popular hiking destination, so many people were on the volcano when the eruption occurred and at least 54 people died as a result of the eruption.

Now, families of some of the victims are suing the local government over the eruption, claiming that they downplayed the threat posed by the volcano and that it was inadequately monitored (only three of five seismometers were working at the time). This is a little bit like the trial of the Italian geologists after the L’Aquila earthquake, where they were blamed for the deaths due to the earthquakes because they downplayed the risk.

The big problem is that geologists monitoring volcanoes or assessing earthquake hazards only have pieces of data from which to work, so making claims without a firm backing can be as bad. If geologists lose credibility because of too many “false positives” about an eruption, then getting people to leave when a real crisis arises can become nearly impossible. The volcanologists from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) worked with the data in hand and determined no apparent threat in Ontake’s behavior. This ended up being incorrect, but not really due to misinterpreting the data that was being collected, however imperfect.

Is the local government (geologists) really to be blamed for the deaths or was it a unavoidable accident?

Source: https://www.wired.com/2017/01/victims-families-sue-japan-failing-warn-eruption/