Archive for October, 2005

A Puzzling Distribution

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

Was on my way to school today when I happen to chance upon a man handing out sheets of printed A4 paper.

Thought it would be some interesting political view as I have encountered such distributions in the past whenever the GE draws near.

The man just said “Thank You” as I took a copy and glancing at it, turned out to be a photocopy of just 2 newspaper clippings from ST, warning that Singapore could be hit and flooded by a tsunami.

What puzzles me is the intentions of such distribution. There is no indication of any affiliation to any party, group or organisation. Just two additional quotes along with the articles: “The person who controls the river floods, controls the country.” and “As in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the coming of the Son of Man.”

The quotes seem to imply some cultish organisation but I shall not speculate further. Is such distribution actually legal?

Anyway it could be time to really think if the Civil Defence has actually considered such a situation and what plans they have if any. So far it has mostly been on paper but already some are praising the efficency of our Civil Defence. I don’t wish for a real situation to find out but if such does happen, I think the assurance is worth exchanging all our current gripes and issues for.

The articles with the highlights in the cutting:

Spore and Msia ‘not safe from tsunami’

Thailand’s now iconic meteorologist, Dr Smith Dharmasaroja, who in 1998 predicted a killer tsunami would hit Thailand one day and was ignored, told The Straits Times that Singapore and Malaysia are also in danger from a future earthquake and tsunami.

‘I believe the epicentre of future quakes will shift northwards, north of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

‘A big earthquake with a more northerly epicentre than the Dec 26 quake will generate a tsunami which will have a more direct route down to the Strait of Malacca, swamping Singapore and Malaysia.

‘As the sea passage narrows, more water will build up and the wave will become bigger.

‘Singapore is relatively low-lying and quite flat, and would be badly affected. Remember, in December, the tsunami was 30m high at Banda Aceh. At Khao Lak, it was 16m high,’ he said.

Dr Smith, 70, retired as chief of Thailand’s Meteorological Department well before last December’s disaster.

But before that, in 1998, he had warned first in a speech and then in a memo that Thailand’s Andaman coast was at risk from a killer tsunami.

Tragically, his warning, though widely reported by the media, was ignored. Government officials, fearful of tourists staying away, branded him a dangerous man with a loose screw. The authorities in Phuket castigated him and said he was not welcome to visit.

After the tsunami, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra recalled him and made him chairman of a committee tasked with developing a national disaster warning centre and strategy.

‘I’m not happy that I made the right prediction,’ he told The Straits Times. ‘Nobody can accurately predict an earthquake, you can only assume from historical data.’

He said that big natural disasters occur in 80- to 100-year cycles, apparently randomly across the world.

‘If you speak out too much, forecast too much, you will get a lot of criticism, from government agencies, the tourism sector and so forth. People have been blaming me for years for warning of earthquakes.’

Explaining the northward shift of future epicentres, Dr Smith stressed: ‘This is no joke. I would like you to put this message out to Singapore and Malaysia.’

The researcher working on the hypothesis, who did not want to be named, told The Straits Times the research was ongoing and final results were not yet ready.

But Dr Smith said: ‘I have seen the simulations that indicate this and they look believable. From my own experience, it is possible.

‘Only a few days ago, there was a 6.1 quake in the Andaman sea near the Nicobar islands, which is about 200 miles north of the Dec 26 quake. So this is an indication that the epicentre is moving north.’

Asian nightmare

Damage and death from natural disasters has always been something of an Asian affliction, with the last 10 months being worse than usual.

And given the geology and climate of much of Asia, that is likely to continue.

Asia is home to around 60 per cent of the world’s population, which means major natural disasters that hit populated areas kill more people.

As far back as the 1700s, storms regularly killed thousands in Asia. In October 1737, the Hooghly cyclone killed an estimated 300,000 in the area now known as the Indian city of Kolkata.

In 1833, a quake off Sumatra generated a tsunami which reached north-western Australia.

On Oct 31, 1876, a powerful cyclone wiped the town of Backergunge in what is now Bangladesh off the face of the Earth, killing around 100,000.

In 1935, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake in Quetta in modern-day Pakistan killed 50,000.

In 2002, Dr Satoru Nishikawa, executive director of the Asian Disaster Reduction Centre in Japan, noted that between 1975 and 2000, Asia accounted for 88 per cent of the total population of the world affected by natural disasters.

Last year’s Dec 26 tsunami, the March earthquake in Sumatra, an earthquake in Iran and last week’s tremor in Kashmir sharply lifted the death toll and damage from natural disasters in Asia this year. More than 260,000 people have died so far – and the year has nearly three more months left.

With a few exceptions, Asian governments have by and large done little in the way of disaster preparedness and mitigation. This is often due to resource constraints, but experts say it is also a result of insufficient attention being paid to scientific evidence and not enough money being put into preparedness.

There is worse to come across Asia unless urgent measures are taken to safeguard the continent’s at-risk populations.

University of Colorado seismology professor Roger Bilham, who shares other experts’ concern about the future in Asia, told The Straits Times in an e-mail interview that a direct hit on a large city will kill numerous people living in ‘weak structures’.

Four years ago, an Indian and American seismology team warned that ‘one or more great earthquakes’, with a death toll of 200,000-plus, may be ‘overdue’ in a ‘large fraction of the Himalayas’.

This week, international experts reiterated that the Kashmir earthquake could be just a sample of worse to come.

‘The recent earthquake in Kashmir left a large amount of energy untapped. The regions to the north-west and south-east are now closer to failure but we have no precedent for saying they will go next,’ said the renowned Prof Bilham, who arrived in Pakistan this week, fresh from a trip to the Andamans to study last year’s undersea earthquake.

Last weekend, India’s Secretary for Science and Technology, Mr V.S. Ramamurthy, told the Sunday Express newspaper that this is a timely cue ‘to get our act together for seismic planning’.

‘Nature has been kind enough to give us a powerful reminder but thankfully the Earth has not delivered an immensely devastating blow as was being forecast.’

Experts say about 50 million people are at risk from earthquakes in the Himalayan region.

Thailand’s Dr Smith Dharmasaroja, who in 1998 predicted that a tsunami would one day hit the country’s Andaman coast, told The Straits Times he agreed with new evidence that global warming is creating stronger typhoons.

But for typhoons, there is at least technology now to see them coming and project their course, he said. This is not yet the case with earthquakes.

Dr Smith shares the bitterness that several other experts feel at being ignored by the authorities in high-risk countries.

Just days before the March earthquake in Sumatra which killed 2,000, seismology professor John McCloskey from the University of Ulster in Britain had predicted the precise location as well as the strength – though not the exact timing – of the quake.

He told The Straits Times over the phone that when he published his paper, he was widely criticised in Indonesia. ‘The nature of science is that not everyone agrees,’ he said.

‘But the attacks on my work in Indonesia were more rhetoric than science. In the end, what we said was vindicated. That has increased the confidence we have in the work we are doing.’

But he is not optimistic that the authorities would be more inclined to listen the next time around.

What also hampers scientists in the region is a lack of systematic data collection and data-sharing.

Said Dr Anond Snidvongs of Sea Start, a Bangkok-based think-tank dedicated to reducing uncertainties in forecasting and assessing the impact of environmental change in South-east Asia: ‘Not just Thailand, but countries in the region need to work more closely together.

‘Data in some cases becomes a proprietary issue, and every country wants to have its own warning system. Also, government bureaucrats rarely listen to scientists. This is partly understandable because scientists also squabble among themselves, and because their language is too specialised.’

At a workshop on disaster management in 2002, Dr Nishikawa pointed out that it was a series of devastating typhoons in the 1940s and 1950s which convinced the Japanese government it was time to develop concrete disaster preparedness plans.

In 1961, the country’s first legislation on disaster counter-measures was passed in Parliament. He recalled an ancient Japanese proverb which goes: ‘The person who controls the river floods, controls the country.’

Hopefully, the rest of Asia will soon muster a similar safe, rather than sorry, resolve.

Articles by Nirmal Gosh
The Straits Times
Publication Date : 2005-10-15

Spore and Msia ‘not safe from tsunami’
Asian Nightmare

The New Poor

Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

Being part of the “new poor” (fresh graduate mah), I found the following read interesting. My only pickings about it, is the generous use of ‘PAP’ in the article. Regardless of whether PAP takes up almost all the seats, the PAP is not our government. Really, PAP is part of the government, but the government is not PAP.

In the current economic restructing and downturn, a tier of “new poor” has emerged. Housing mortgages and, health costs are just some of the problems. This article sets out the arguments.

Monday, 11 February 2002

by James Gomez (Hammer)

THEY are the New Poor – urban, made up of the unskilled, a sizeable middle-class, fresh graduates and the consumption oriented. Collectively, they live and work with no guarantee of life-long employment but are responsible for multiple long-term financial obligations (“forced”or otherwise) in an environment that provides no short-term unemployment benefits.

Singapore Dream in Smoke

IN Singapore, the new knowledge-based economy means that many of our unskilled and semi-skilled workers, especially those in their forties who still have families to support are becoming “redundant” unless they retrain, upgrade their skills and use information technology. The sad aspect is that the PAP government does not understand that even if they provide subsidized training programs, the people still need hard cash to stay alive. Many in this category have long mortgages (up to 30 years) for public housing and with upgrading, have additional long-term payment expenses. Additionally, depending on income levels, some take hire purchase loans for home appliances, TV, radio, computers and furniture. Many need health and life insurance policies to supplement health care costs. Their children’s education is another important financial consideration. The needs of the elderly, if they have not provided for their retirement, also fall on the children – these forty-somethings. Legislation ensures that this becomes a legal obligation, added on to their other outstanding financial commitments.

The “middle-class” which at times was portrayed as the “new rich” is finding that a number of essentials like health care, housing and education are becoming expensive and are cutting into their lifestyle choices.

Having a maid to look after the children and their elderly parents is more costly. In some cases, it’s more cost-effective for one of the spouses, usually the wife, to stay home. Suddenly, overseas travel, country club memberships, private properties, liquid cash for investment and stocks are out of reach. A maximum seven-year lease on a car is another burden for those who choose to own one. Even the desire for overseas and further education has become a liability for many. Parents and individuals have to take personal and study loans to realize this wish.

Once the boon of the middle-class, the policies of the PAP are increasingly narrowing their lifestyles choices or leaving them in debt.

For the younger workers or fresh graduates, the recession not withstanding, jobs are harder to come by. They have to settle for less pay and work longer hours. But they have immediate needs – at least a two-year package for handphones. Then there are the other expenses. Dining out, acquiring fashion labels, going on holidays, owning a palmtop, buying CDs, books and magazines are just some of the expense items. Credit is not an option. After all if they chalk up large bills on their cards that they cannot pay, they are eventually made bankrupts. Even tertiary students explore credit for overseas travel way before they join the work force. But there is no guarantee that tertiary education locally or abroad translates immediately into a job. Many graduates spend months, sometimes over a year, looking for a full-time job. Others work temporarily in between – if they can find something. Relief teaching and tuition is a last resort.

And then there are those who pursue their material wants although they cannot really afford them. They get into heavy financial obligations and have problems managing them. For instance, unnecessary and expensive housing renovation that has little value in the high turn over resale HDB property market. Or getting into uninformed business ventures in a saturated government-dominated private sector that do not result in successful profit making or taking large and unsecured speculative risks in the financial markets that can leave one in a state of abrupt monetary scarcity.

The Worst is Yet to Come

THE financial commitment elicited by the new economy is not matched by a guarantee of life-long employment and financial security.

For those who are employed, their personal savings may not be large enough to cushion the unexpected long-term unemployment prospects. The only option for them is to find stopgap measures of work, such as being a security guard, cleaner or taxi driver, that will take them away from their traditional area of skills and training to a saturated unskilled employment market where there is competition with school leavers, retirees and foreign workers.

For many past the working age, current savings in the Central Provident Funds, if they have not been used up for public housing, are not sufficient to pay for post-retirement expenses. The government’s advice is to sell their homes, move to special retirement flats and provide for themselves with the difference. It does not matter if this is not applicable to all or that they have to liquidate their homes to compensate for the inadequacy of their Central Provident Funds. Even the legislation on children to provide for their elderly parents cannot work if the children cannot afford it. Thus, although there are some who work to keep fit, it’s not unusual to see needy elderly people well into retirement age working behind the counter at McDonalds, collecting discarded cardboard boxes and minding the doorways to public toilets.

Part of the problem lies in the PAP government’s policies, which seek profit in what essentially are welfare provision sectors and essential services. The policy of allowing cheap foreign labour has also displaced unskilled Singaporeans. For instance, some may look towards working as a security guard or officer when they lose their jobs as an interim stop gap measure. But increasingly they find themselves competing with many foreign workers as well in these industries. Thus, when the economy is bad and jobs are scarce, even a security guard job option is made more competitive with foreign worker involvement. And for those who insist that foreign talent is good, we need to add a rejoinder to question why Singaporeans are losing their jobs when the foreigners come.

Wealth redistributions are cast aside in favour of forcing high growth to mediate poverty levels. This is an ineffective solution. A scrutiny of the rich to find ways to accommodate the poor is prematurely discharged as the “politics of envy”. As the economy matures and the PAP practices a fiscal policy to attract the Multi-National Corporations, continues the foreign talent policy, but asks the citizens to bear more hardship without making structural adjustments for their welfare – a new poverty emerges.

From New Rich to New Poor

ORIDNARY people find it harder each day to manage basic expenses. Others who seem, in material terms well-off, are challenged in terms of their financial obligations, ability to manage them adequately and capacity to cope with the accompanying social fallout. Once touted as the New Rich, they are now the New Poor. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen and needless to say, some of the fast rising salaries are for the Ministers. It has created a condition where there is poverty amidst affluence.

One way to avoid being the New Poor is to leave the country, live or work overseas to enjoy a different lifestyle. However, this is not a solution for a country with a young history trying to build a nationhood. Besides for many of us, this is our home. In any case, only those from certain categories can afford to leave the country and avoid being the New Poor in Singapore. Many won’t even qualify to gain entry into another country. This is the class that the PAP ignores because they neither have the means or the capacity to migrate, and at the same time, they are the ones that the PAP can chide at will. These are the people that the PAP scares into voting for them. The scare tactic is that there would be no material guarantees without the PAP. Material punitive measures would also be taken against them, for example, denying them upgrading for their flats if they vote for anybody else.

Health care, housing, utilities are all essentials. As such, long-term mortgages for public housing, loans for further education (locally) or even health care that place heavy financial burdens on people are major concerns. Cars, overseas education and travel maybe not for some. However, given the PAP policies of encouraging materialism, loans for overseas education and the seven-year lease on car also figure importantly in the financial plans of those who want them. And because the needs and wants are all linked to a generation of PAP policies, we have all become and can be classified as “poor” in certain ways.

Now that the recession has set in, what has been a trend for many years now is increasingly kicking in – the cost of living has risen and continues to rise. Health care, housing, utilities, education and the purchase of consumer goods are expensive and are eating into one’s income – that is if you have one. Therefore, essentials such as housing, education, health should be made affordable and no one must be deprived of this, even if they are unemployed and has no financial ability to pay. With more unemployment expected over the next few months, this is a concern. Long-term structural solutions have to be found to address the issues affecting the New Poor.

Monday, February 11, 2002

(link via Omeka Na Huria)