Asian Insider June 25: Drones, pollution and a water crisis

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.


In today’s bulletin: Drones disrupt flights again at Changi airport, Malaysia reels from another pollution incident, Chennai faces its own water crisis, Hong Kong activists try to keep the world’s attention and more.

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Drones cause disruption at Changi Airport

Twice in a matter of days, unauthorised drones in the vicinity of Changi Airport disrupted flights. On Monday, bad weather and drones affected 25 flights according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. On June 18, unauthorised drones delayed 37 flights and affected operations of one of the airport’s two runways for up to 10 hours.

Why so scared of a drone? Research has shown that a drone weighing just 1kg can inflict major damage on aircraft in a collision at high speed. Another concern is that the lithium ion batteries powering drones could get embedded in the place and be a fire risk.

Why it matters: The disruptions caused by drones at the airport is once again raising questions about how the use of such craft can be regulated and controlled. In December and January, drones activities has disrupted flights at Heathrow and Gatwick airports in the UK. Singapore has a comprehensive set of rules regulating drones already and was in the process of further beefing them up before the current spate of disruptions. It is not clear if he drones activities near Changi were conducted by those with malicious intent but it is now evident airports need to equip themselves with stronger countermeasures.

Go deeper:

Drones, bad weather cause flight delays and diversions at Changi Airport on Monday

Tech, regulations can help avoid drone disruptions, say expert

Malaysia vows stern action against polluter

Malaysian is counting the cost of environmental pollution in Pasir Gudang in the southern state of Johor after all schools in the district were once again forced to close because of chemical pollution. Though this is the second air pollution incident there in three months there - a minister said the current incident was caused by a failure to clean up the previous one - it is not clear that the culprits have been identified. Today, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed that the government would take stern action.

The big picture:  Adding to the severity of the situation is how close Pasir Gudang is to the Johor River, a major tributary and the source of water to Johor and Singapore. It all adds up to what residents have described as a decades long struggle with pollution in the river that has affected all who depend on it.

Further reading:

At ground zero of Pasir Gudang's toxic fumes disaster, upset parents demand action

Read our special report on the growing crisis along the Johor River

ST Exclusive: A city surrounded by water goes thirsty

From Malaysia, we head to Chennai in India, another city facing water woes. Across the city of 4.6 million, people are now standing in line to fill plastic pots with water as taps have started to run dry.

This shouldn’t be happening to Chennai:  It is at least a little ironic for a city that is surrounded by water to be facing a water crisis. Three rivers - Cooum, Adyar and Kortalaiyar - run through the heart of the city and its beach attracts thousands of visitors daily.

What happened?  Poor pollution management means that much of the water in its rivers are unusable. Chennai has historically relied on annual monsoon rains to replenish its reservoirs. This year, the rains have not come. Two of the cities reservoirs have gone completely dry and levels at the other two are low. It has two desalination plants but that is not enough to meet its needs. Water activists are now saying that Cehnnai is a cautionary tale for the rest of India where water resources have not been well managed.

Read our special report: Chennai's water crisis: A city dries up

Hong Kong: Activists try and keep the world’s attention

The bulk of the protesters have left the streets and the Hong Kong government has reopened this week. Activists are now fearing that the world’s attention might shift to other issues.Today, activists are pushing to get the controversial extradition bill on the agenda of the G-20 summit in Japan this weekend. 

What they are doing: They’ve started a crowdfunding campaign to take newspaper ads calling for the G-20 to discuss the issue.They are also planning another demonstration tomorrow in various locations throughout the city meant to raise awareness among world leaders attending the summit in Osaka. Beijing, meanwhile, had said on Monday it would not allow Hong Kong to be discussed at the G-20.

 Latest reports:

Hong Kong activists crowdfund for anti-extradition bill voice at G-20

Analysis: Be careful what you wish for: Hong Kong's next leader could be worse than incumbent

Who is responsible for comments on a Facebook post?

In a ruling that could carry serious ramifications for how media outlets run their social media operations, an Australian court has ruled that three media companies were responsible for defamatory comments made on their Facebook pages. 

The big picture: Media companies have generally argued that they cannot be expected to filer the hundreds and thousands of comments posted on their Facebook pages but the New South Wales court disagreed. If the ruling stands after appeal, it would mean companies need to actively monitor and remove defamatory comments on their posts - a resource-intensive endeavour. A correspondent at an Australian media group said the ruling represented a “real and present danger to journalism”.

The full report:  Australian court rules media companies liable for Facebook comments

Other developments:

Haziq Aziz, the man who implicated Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali in an ongoing sex scandal, has said the episode has ruined his political career and scuppered hopes he had of running for public office.

The "Wild Boars" youth football team, whose plight captivated the world a year ago when they were trapped for nearly three weeks in a flooded Thai cave, paid their respects on Monday (June 24) to a diver who died trying to save them. They had been marking the first anniversary of the saga this weekend.

As many as 47,000 security personnel from the Indonesian police, military and the Jakarta administration are on standby to secure important landmarks across the capital, leading up to the Constitutional Court's ruling in Central Jakarta on Thursday (June 27) on the presidential election dispute. 

That’s a wrap for today. Thanks for reading.