China-backed hydro dam threatens worlds rarest orangutan

Sumatra Island is the only known habitat of Tapanuli orangutan ICMD, Oct 20, 2018 A billion-dollar hydroelectric dam development in Indonesia that threatens the habitat of the worlds rarest great ape has sparked fresh concerns about the impact of Chinas globe-spanning infrastructure drive. The site of the dam in the Batang Toru rainforest on Sumatra island is the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, a newly discovered species that numbers about 800 individuals in total. The $1.6 billion project, which is expected to be operational by 2022, will cut through the heart of the critically endangered animals habitat, which is also home to agile gibbons, siamangs and Sumatran tigers. Indonesian firm PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy is building the power plant with backing from Sinosure, a Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE) that insures overseas investment projects, and the Bank of China, company documents show. Chinese SOE Sinohydro, which built the mammoth Three Gorges Dam, has been awarded the design and construction contract for the project. The development is one of dozens being pushed by the government to improve electricity supply throughout the sprawling archipelago, parts of which are regularly plagued by blackouts. But the Chinese-backed project has sparked fierce resistance from conservationists, who say the potential environmental risk has already seen the World Bank Group shy away from involvement. Its Chinese backers appear undeterred, however, something critics say underscores the troubling environmental impact of Beijings trademark Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to link Asia, Europe and Africa with a network of ports, highways and railways. This issue is becoming in some ways the face of the Belt and Road initiative, Professor Bill Laurance, director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science at James Cook University in Australia, told AFP. I think this crystallises in a way that people can understand what a tsunami of 7,000-plus projects will mean for nature. Death knell Until recently, scientists thought there were only two genetically distinct types of orangutan, Bornean and Sumatran. But in 1997 biological anthropologist Erik Meijaard observed an isolated population of the great apes in Batang Toru, south of the known habitat for Sumatran orangutans, and scientists began to investigate if it was a unique species. Researchers studied the DNA, skulls and teeth of 33 orangutans killed in human-animal conflict before concluding that they had indeed discovered a new species, giving it the scientific name Pongo tapanuliensis or Tapanuli orangutan. The 510-megawatt dam, which will supply peak-load electricity to North Sumatra province, will flood part of the apes habitat and include a network of roads and high-voltage transmission lines. Critics say it will fragment the three existing populations, who are living in a tract of forest less than one-fifth the size of the greater Jakarta region, and lead to inbreeding. Meijaard said the dam would be the death knell for the animal. Roads bring in hunters (and) settlers its the start, generally, of things falling apart, he told AFP. Weighing the risk But the plight of the cinnamon-furred ape seems to have been given little attention in the environmental impact assessment by PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy, according to conservationists and scientists who have seen the document. In August, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) filed a legal challenge against the environmental permit approved by the North Sumatra government, saying it failed to address the dams impact on wildlife, communities living downstream, or the risk of damage from earthquakes in the seismically active region. PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy and Indonesias environment ministry declined to respond to AFPs requests for comment. Bank of China said in a statement it did not comment on specific projects, but added it takes all relevant factors into consideration when formulating policies and making decisions. The World Bank, through its sister organisation the International Finance Corporation, declined to comment on any aspect of its initial ties to the project outlined in World Bank documents dated March 2017 or environmentalists claims it pulled out due to habitat concerns. The Batang Toru project is not the only development in Indonesia linked to the Belt and Road initiative, which aims to bolster Chinese influence abroad. But it might be the most contentious. We really hope the financial backers of this project will see there are environmental and social problems with the project and decide not to support the project, said Yuyun Eknas of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi). The World Bank has pulled out. We hope the Bank of China will do the same. Courtesy AFP

NASA launches historic probe to touch Sun

ICMD, Aug 12, 2018 NASA on Sunday launched a $1.5 billion spacecraft toward the Sun on a historic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of dangerous solar storms. Three, two, one, and liftoff! said a NASA commentator as the Parker Solar Probe lit up the dark night sky aboard a Delta IV-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:31 am (0731 GMT). The unmanned spacecraft aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the center of our solar system. The probe is designed to plunge into the Suns atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission. It is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth. Strange veil NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to touch the Sun. In reality, it should come within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Suns surface, close enough to study the curious phenomenon of the solar wind and the Suns atmosphere, known as the corona, which is 300 times hotter than its surface. The car-sized probe is designed to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid. These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but pack the potential to wipe out power to millions of people. A worst-case scenario could cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade to fully recover from, experts have warned. The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth, said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of Michigan. Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars. Heat shield The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick, enabling the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star. Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius). If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission. The sun is full of mysteries, said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. We are ready. We have the perfect payload. We know the questions we want to answer. 91-year-old namesake The spacecraft is the only NASA probe in history to be named after a living person in this case, 91-year-old solar physicist Eugene Parker, who first described the solar wind in 1958. Parker said last week that he was impressed by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it a very complex machine. NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Saturday that Parker is an incredible hero of our scientific community, and called the probe one of NASA most strategically important missions. Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments. Tools on board will measure high-energy particles associated with flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as the changing magnetic field around the Sun. A white light imager will take images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun. When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from New York to Tokyo in one minute some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.

Hamdard starts plantation campaign to mark World Environment Day

Karachi: ICMD, June 6, 2018 Hamdard Laboratories (Waqf) Pakistan initiated a plantation campaign by planting Neem trees at its headquarters on the World Environment Day. The plantation campaign is directed at making Karachi greener and keeping the metropolis pollution free. Talking to media representatives on the occasion the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Hamdard Usama Qureshi said that Hamdard was launching a plantation campaign in order to play its role in the task of saving the country from the harmful effects of climate change. “In this campaign we intend to plant trees in the whole central district and we have the support of Chairman, Karachi Central District Rehan Hashmi,” added Qureshi. ‘Shaheed Hakim Mohammed Said had established the Madinat al-Hikmah, a city of education, science and culture in a desert on the border of Sindh and Balochistan but he made the area green by planting trees, establishing orchard and botanical gardens. Planting trees is Hamdard’s tradition and we wish to promote it,’ the CEO Hamdard explained. Usama Qureshi said that earlier people used to leave some space for plantation while making their houses but now they leave no space for plantation. He added that trees were important because they lowered the temperatures and cleansed the air. Expanding on the subject of climate change, Usama Qureshi said that heat waves and hot weather had gripped Karachi due to urbanization. He added that trees in the city had been brutally cut down and not even the oldest trees were spared. “Cutting the trees is a crime and an outrage committed by us against us. We would all suffer if there are no trees,” continued Usama Qureshi. The campaign was initiated by Managing Director and CEO of Hamdard Laboratories (Waqf) Pakistan, Usama Qureshi; Chairman Karachi Central District Council Rehan Qureshi, Director General Hamdard Foundation Farrukh Imdad, Hamdard’s Director of Research and Development Prof. Dr. Hakim Abdul Hannan, Director Finance, Abdul Wasim Qureshi, Director IT Hasnain Eqbal and Deputy Director Trade, Jamil Akhtar. Prof. Dr. Hakim Abdul Hannan, Director Research and Development Abdul Wasim Qureshi, Director Finance Hasnain Eqbal and Deputy Director Trade Jamil Akhtar also planted saplings on the occasion.

India has world’s 14 most polluted cities, says WHO

NEW DELHI: ICMD, April 3, 2018 Only a handful of India’s 100 most polluted cities have drawn up plans to combat air pollution despite being asked to do so three years ago, senior government officials said on Wednesday after a damning report by the World Health Organisation. India is home to the world’s 14 most polluted cities, the WHO said, based on the amount of particulate matter under 2.5 micrograms found in every cubic metre of air. Environment ministry officials said the WHO’s findings were embarrassing but not surprising. “It hurts India’s image, hurts the India story, hurts tourism, hurts medical tourism,” said an official, lamenting that fewer than 30 cities had an action plan ready to fight air pollution. “India will eventually overcome the problem, but my frustration is with the timeline.” The ministry could spend about Rs7 billion ($105 million) this fiscal year to help cities set up air-quality monitoring systems and buy equipment like water-sprinklers to settle the dust, said the officials, who declined to be identified. Officials said the environment ministry had asked municipalities to finalise anti-pollution plans quickly. The ministry has also fixed six-month to two-year deadlines to set up monitoring stations in rural areas, run health-impact studies and build air-quality forecasting systems, according to a government document. Kanpur, a north Indian city of three million people, is the world’s most polluted city, yet it only has one system to monitor air quality, whereas at least five are needed, said another environment ministry official. The air in Kanpur had an average of 173 micrograms of particulate matter under 2.5 micrograms in 2016. The US Environmental Protection Agency says a “good” level would be 0-50 micrograms. The city’s authorities have only just begun to draft plans to fight pollution, said the official. The city is on the banks of the Ganges, and the effluent from its tanneries is polluting the river. Surendra Singh, Kanpur’s main administrator, did not respond to requests for comment. The WHO said it was “particularly concerned” about India’s pollution levels and urged it to follow the example China had set in striving for cleaner air. Around the world, nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, according to the WHO study. Globally about seven million people die as a result of polluted air a year, it said, with people living in poor Asian and African countries at most risk. A British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated that air pollution was responsible for almost 10 per cent of the total disease burden in India in 2016. Air pollution in Delhi over recent winters, when the colder weather tends to trap fumes, forced schools to shut and prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office to directly monitor measures to clean up the capital’s air. Steps have included sprinkling water to damp down dust and banning certain fuels but there’s barely any improvement. Delhi sixth most polluted city Delhi is the world’s sixth most polluted city, according to the WHO. On Wednesday, air quality in the city stood at 143 micrograms, which is “unhealthy for sensitive groups”. “We Indians need to stand up for our right to breathe clean air, and demand improvement and implementation of the (environment ministry’s) Clean Air Programme,” Greenpeace India said.— Courtesy Reuters

New beetle named after Leonardo DiCaprio

ICMD, May 1, 2018 Amateur scientists have discovered a new species of water beetle and named it after Leonardo DiCaprio to honour the Oscar-winning Hollywood actor’s efforts towards biodiversity preservation. The water beetle, described in the journal ZooKeys, was discovered at a waterfall in the remote Maliau Basin in Malaysian Borneo. During a field trip initiated by Taxon Expeditions - an organisation based in The Netherlands which arranges scientific surveys for untrained people - a total of three water beetle species new to science were identified. The expedition participants and the local staff of the Maliau Basin Studies Centre voted to name one of them Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi, in honour of DiCaprio’s efforts to protect untouched, unexplored wildernesses. The tribute marks the 20th anniversary of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) and its efforts towards biodiversity preservation. “Tiny and black, this new beetle may not win any Oscars for charisma, but in biodiversity conservation, every creature counts,” said Iva Njunjic, founder of Taxon Expeditions. LDF has contributed to over 200 grassroots projects around the globe devoted to climate change mitigation, wildlife conservation, and habitat preservation. -- TH

Michael Bloomberg to write $4.5 million cheque for Paris climate pact

ICMD, April 23, 2018 Former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg said on Sunday he will write a $4.5 million cheque to cover this year's U.S. financial commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. President Donald Trump last year pulled the United States out of the pact, making the country the only one opposed to it. Mr. Bloomberg, in a CBS interview, said he hopes by next year Mr. Trump will have changed his mind. Mr. Bloomberg will continue to provide money for the pact if the United States does not rejoin the agreement, according to a news release from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity he founded. “Our foundation will uphold our promise to cover any cuts to U.N. climate funding by the federal government,” Mr. Bloomberg said in the statement. Mr. Trump staunchly opposes the agreement and his administration has rolled back a number of environmental regulations. -- Courtesy Reuters

Asrar and Abida Parveen joining forces once again?

KARACHI: ICMD, April 11, 2018 Pakistani music has had its fair share of highs and lows with legends such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and pop singers like Atif Aslam having managed to set their mark in the local industry. Just recently, musician Asrar Shah was spotted jamming with music maestro Abida Parveen, and the question on our minds is: Are the two set to collaborate once again? In a video shared by Asrar himself, he mentions that there is something big coming out for us soon. And we just couldn’t contain our excitement. Considering the abundant talent that the two sensations possess, whatever is cooking between the two will surely be mesmerising.

Newly appointed KWSB project directors lack engineering background

ICMD, Feb 6, 2018 The Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) has expressed serious reservations over appointment of officials lacking engineering degrees on positions requiring engineering expertise. Speaking to Daily Times, Najamuddin Sheikh, a member of the executive committee of the PEC, said that the recent appointments of the project directors of the Greater Karachi Bulk Water Supply Scheme K-IV Phase-I and Greater Karachi Sewerage Plant (S-III) were in violation of the PEC Act of 1976. He said the council would soon send a delegation to Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah to convey its reservations. He said a letter had already been written to Prime Minster, Shahid Khaqan Abbassi on the matter. Assad Zamin a BPS-19 official, was posted as the project director of K-IV Phase-I, and Noor Ahmed, also a BPS-19 official, of S-III on January 31. “These two officials hold simple graduate degrees with no relevant engineering knowledge and expertise. They have been posted in place of Saleem Siddiqui and Imtiaz Ahmad Magsi who held relevant engineering degrees and experience,” Sheikh said. Regarding the appointments in the KWSB, a senior officer in Sindh government, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two officers were appointed on directions of Muzaffar Owais alias Tappi, the former minister of the Local Government Department, since he was a major shareholder in the company that has the contract for the S-III project. The contract for the K-IV Phase-I is with the Frontier Works Organisation. Both projects got started with a delay of more than eight years and as a result their cost got escalated to around Rs 92 billion, based on the figures quoted by the Sindh chief minister at a recent Supreme Court hearing. Their original cost had been estimated at around Rs 7 billion (SIII) and Rs27 billion (K-IV). Almost a year ago, Hashim Raza Zaidi was appointed as the managing director of the KWSB on SC directions with specific instructions to turn around the organisation so that water woes of the residents of Karachi could be addressed. Meanwhile, the PEC official says that they have been receiving complaints from graduate engineers about violations of the PEC Act’s Section 27(5A) in government appointments not just in Sindh but in other provinces as well. Sheikh said the law was clear that no person shall perform as a professional engineer, unless registered as an engineer or holding any post in an engineering organisation where he has to perform professional engineering work.” These concerns were the subject of a letter dispatched by Jawed Salim Qureshi, the PEC chairman, to the Prime Minister’s Office a couple of months ago. In the letter, a copy of which is available with Daily Times, the PEC has expressed concerns over the appointment of officials with non-engineers education and professional backgrounds on engineering posts in government departments. The letter says that the problem isn’t just restricted to Sindh. The chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority, responsible for executing infrastructure projects worth billion of dollars is a non-cadre official, according to the letter. Similarly, it highlights that secretaries of Irrigation and Communication and Works (C&W) Departments in Punjab, KPK, and Balochistan, DGs of provincial development authorities, the CEO of PESCO, the MD Sui Southern Gas Company Limited are all required to have engineering education and experience under Sections 2(XIII) and 27(5A) of PEC Act. The PEC’s mandate is to regulate engineering profession including registration of engineers, accreditation of engineering education, construction and consultancy sectors. -- DT

Special lunar eclipse: 'Super blue blood moon' to light up sky today

ICMD, Jan 31, 2018 The triple lunar event will be seen today (Wednesday) as a blue moon, super moon and total eclipse blood moon will light up the sky in some parts of the country after 151 years. People at some parts on the Earth will have an opportunity to witness all three lunar events at once, while most countries will miss out to see the triple lunar event, that hasn't been seen since 1866. It will be visible in some parts of Pakistan, Russia, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific and Australia, US, northeastern Europe. The total phase of this lunar eclipse, also known as Blood Moon, would be visible penumbral at 15.51 PST, an official of Met Office. While the partial eclipse would begin at 16.48 PST whereas the total eclipse would start at 17.52 PST, however, the greatest eclipse time is 18.31 PST. The total eclipse would end at 19.08 PST, partial eclipse at 20.11 PST, and penumbral eclipse at 21.08 PST. The penumbral magnitude of the eclipse would be 2.2941while the umbral magnitude would be 1.3155. 'Super blue blood moon' A blue moon is called when the moon is full, and occurring twice in the calendar month. The moon is on a 28-day cycle so that only happens once in a while – or, as you might say, once in a blue moon. While the supermoon appears larger and brighter than usual as it's especially close to the Earth, during these times, the moon can appear 17 percent larger than it does at its furthest point in its orbit. The moon doesn't orbit Earth in a perfect circle – it's an ellipse, which means there are times during the orbit that it is thousands of miles closer to Earth than others, A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth's shadow moves across the Moon, blocking out the light from the Sun. TN

2017: the second hottest year since 1880

This year could turn out to be the second hottest year since the records began in 19th century, UN weather agency World Meteorological Organisation announced on Monday as countries gathered for climate change talks in Bonn. Temperatures were the highest ever in 2016, which climatologists attribute to El Nino event that releases heat from Pacific Ocean that contributes to warmer weather. El Nino was the reason that 2015 and 2014 saw sweltering heat but not 2017. In fact, the 2013-2017 period is likely to be the hottest five years the planet has seen in recorded history. The findings of the WMO will give around 200 countries something to think about at Bonn in Germany, where they will discuss the 2015 Paris climate pact that has been dealt a blow by the US plan to pullout. “We have witnessed extraordinary weather,” Reuters news agency quoted WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas as saying in a statement. He pointed to severe hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean, temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius in Pakistan, Iran and Oman, monsoon floods in Asia and drought in East Africa. “Many of these events - and detailed scientific studies will determine exactly how many - bear the tell-tale sign of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities,” Taalas said. -- ICMD, Nov 6, 2017