SINGAPORE - The current dry spell should come as no surprise, and such periods are likely to become more frequent in the future.
But before Singaporeans blame industrial countries and the burning of fossil fuels, they need to look closer to home for the real cause.
There used to be rain on most afternoons or evenings when rainforests were abundant in Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo and Indonesia. This was because evaporation and transpiration from trees contributed to the formation of clouds, which eventually led to rain.
Compared to established rainforests, oil palm plantations and built-up areas contribute less to evaporation, and rainfall decreases over the long term.
Oil palm plantations require vast amounts of water, but with less rain, the output decreases. There is then greater pressure on farmers to expand the area for growing oil palm, at the expense of rainforests. This also causes rainfall to decline over the long term.
I recently visited southern Kalimantan and eastern Sabah and saw the unrelenting monotony of oil palm plantations, with forest trees evident only on inaccessible slopes. There should have been a mix of oil palm and rainforest, instead of the wholesale destruction of the forest.
If South-east Asia is not to become a desert, forest destruction for oil palm and urbanisation must cease.
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