Saturday, June 04, 2005

Bird flu fears lead to Ubin poultry ban

Residents have two weeks to get rid of their birds; farmers offered compensation

By Chang Ai-Lien (The Straits Times)
4 Jun 05

THE authorities have moved to seal a potential chink in Singapore's bird flu armour, by banning poultry on Pulau Ubin. Residents on the rustic island have been given two weeks to get rid of their chickens and ducks.

'In disease control, we cannot afford to have half-measures,' said Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) chief executive officer Ngiam Tong Tau yesterday. 'If it's not done well, then it leaves a weakness in the system that could allow the disease to come into Singapore.'

The nine licensed farms and 17 residents who rear chickens and ducks on the island have until Junec 16 to get rid of them. The AVA will buy any remaining birds at market prices, it said. From June 17, no one will be allowed to keep, breed, sell or buy live poultry on the island.

Singapore has so far kept bird flu at bay, but it is now endemic in the region, with infections killing more than 50 people. Experts have blamed backyard farming for the outbreaks, and the World Health Organisation fears the H5N1 strain could spawn the next global flu outbreak which could kill millions of people. Singapore remains on high alert against the deadly virus, with both the Health Ministry and AVA monitoring the situation closely. AVA, for example, said samples of up to 1,000 birds have been tested for the virus every month since April last year. They are from local and imported poultry, birds from the Singapore Zoo and Jurong BirdPark, migratory birds and imported ornamental birds.

The ban on Pulau Ubin extends the restriction imposed last year, when AVA prohibited farms and homes on the island from keeping more than 10 poultry each. They also had to be caged properly to stop them mixing with wild birds. But some people continued to let their fowl roam free, despite checks and reminders from AVA officers. Also, the number of birds kept on the island has risen from 225 late last year to about 300.

'We anticipate that the ban will be in place for the next few years at least, because the disease is entrenched in the region,' said Dr Ngiam. Those caught flouting the rules face a maximum punishment of a $10,000 fine and a year in jail.

But the island's wild, free-roaming red junglefowl - the father of all domestic chickens - has been spared for now. A species considered globally vulnerable to extinction, the shy bird is unlikely to transmit the disease to people because it runs at the sight of them, Dr Ngiam said.

The ban has also not been extended to homes on the mainland. Families can still keep up to 10 pet chickens, provided they are caged. Those at the Zoo and BirdPark have been vaccinated against bird flu, while those at the Botanic Gardens are regularly checked for the disease, he added.

The Government has offered to resettle Pulau Ubin's affected farmers. They will be offered standard resettlement benefits, and compensated for removing their coops and other poultry structures. Farmers who spoke to The Straits Times said it was getting difficult to eke out a living and they would consider moving to the main island.

Mr Tan Hai Lian, who lives on Pulau Ubin with his 100-year-old father, is one of them. The 58-year-old, who has a small provision shop and a 2.4ha plot with fruit trees, said: 'I used to have a few hundred chickens to supplement my income. 'Now, that is gone and it may be easier to leave Ubin.'

Comments from Focus Ubin Forum
(in reference to the above paragraph in bold)
Seagull writes...
"Today's Straits Times Page Three report speaks of some (very) elderly Ubinites understandably being open to leaving Ubin for the mainland. Such a report may very well present a far from accurate impression that it is no longer viable to maintain a healthy Ubin economy for Ubinites there - to therefore set the stage to depopulate Ubin of its Ubinites, and open Ubin to be transformed into no-Ubin.

No need to imagine the dire consequences. Do only visit our maga-bucks-spent-but-largely-stripped-of-authentic-Chinatown-residents-chronically-anaemic Chinatown - and compare its sorry stage with the bustling with authentic-Chinatown-residents-and-Chiantown-economy Chinatowns overseas to know why. Depopulating Ubin of its Ubinites would definitely be a massive step in devaluing Ubin whole.

The reality and the truth however is that with some SMALL money plus original thinking, commonsense and gotong-royong spirit - a sufficiently strong and sustainable authentic Ubin economy can be swifty developed to support a larger base of happy resident-Ubinites and their offsprings, from the unpublicised many Ubinites who are currently there and on the mainland who would want to live and earn their livelihood from Ubin-compatible activities on Ubin. These people do only need LEADERSHIP - which Ubin's current more than very elderly resident-leaders are understandably no longer to provide, after decades of sterling service.

Thus this appeal to persons who see merits in keeping Ubin-whole thriving and authentic for the long-term, to step forward and jointly craft out a no-busting-budget practical master plan to get Ubin and its Ubinites thriving again - for Singapore's sakes, their sakes and wild-Ubin's sakes. ...

Truthfully speaking. Invigorated Ubinites and Ubin economy will also mean an invigorated Singapore tourism economy - to appeal to discerning overseas tourists who want genuine stuff - and not some fako plastik makeovers.

Read more of Seagull's suggestions for sustainable and authentically and "uniquely ubin" revitalization on the island here.

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