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Helping hand


Over the past four decades, whenever disease threatened French oyster beds, Japan’s oyster farmers would come to the rescue with shipments of larvae. So when the tsunami in March devastated one of Japan’s key oyster-growing regions, French firms banded together to repay the favour.

The effort, dubbed France o-kaeshi (“France returns the gift”), was led by fisheries-equipment maker SAS Mulot and micro-lender PlaNet Finance. Within months, officials working with a group of Japanese farmers, called Save Sanriku Oysters, had organised shipments of nearly 11 tonnes of buoys, ropes, nets and clothing, and €200,000 in donations to Miyagi and Iwate prefectures on Japan’s northeastern coastline.

“We’re grateful for the help and the media attention it’s brought,” says Japan Oyster Association director Tomoya Sato. Miyagi prefecture accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s baby oysters and is vital to the global €2.3bn trade – Japanese oyster farmers export larvae to more than 30 countries.

When the tsunami hit, Miyagi oyster farmers were days away from shipping larvae to France, Europe’s top producer. The waves wrecked floats, boats and homes and decimated farmers’ broodstock, the mature oysters used for breeding. Despite the aid, the oyster beds will need time to recover. “This year’s harvest – if there is one – will be tiny,” says Sato.

The Japan disaster led to an outpouring of aid and donations from around the world — some of them rather strange:

  1. Tea bags
    Three million of them courtesy of Sri Lanka.
  2. Tuna
    5,280 cans made their way from the Maldives.
  3. Cash donations
    $500,000 to Korean expatriates in Japan from North Korea, itself strapped for cash and suffering from food shortages.

Going rate


An innovative website is attempting to tackle India’s rife bribery problem. The Bangalore-based site solicits testimonies of everyday corruption. The site launched in August 2010 and as of July 2011 it has logged 11,448 reports, totalling 2.8m rupees (€4.4m).

“We all experience bribery, so we decided to find the market price in different cities,” says product manager Awanti Bele.

Bangalore’s transport commissioner has recently asked for the firm’s help in stamping out corruption.

Baby bust


China’s birth rate has fallen to a startlingly low level: now below 1.5 children per woman. A recent analysis in the Chinese press predicted the population could plummet to about 750 million by 2100 and speculation is building that the one-child policy may be heading for revision.

Guangdong province in southern China has taken the lead, asking for official permission to allow qualified couples to have a second child. Wang Feng, head of the Brookings-Tsinghua Centre for Public Policy in Beijing, says a national plan has also been drawn up to relax the policy in selected locales, but the government hasn’t felt moved to act on it yet.

Wang says, however, that leaders have clearly been shaken by the data. According to an online poll, 39 per cent of people would definitely have a second child if the policy was loosened. “Public sentiment is getting quite intense,” Wang says. “They can’t just leave the problem for future generations.”

Leading the pack


Asia has some of the lowest literacy rates outside Africa (Bangladesh sits at only 55 per cent). Japan is the region’s top performer, with 99 per cent of the population literate.


Bill Dodson



Dodson is the author of China Inside Out: 10 Irreversible Trends Re-shaping China and its Relationship with the World and founder of Shanghai-based TrendsAsia, which analyses social and economic trends affecting foreign companies in China. He talks about water and energy shortages threatening the country.

How bad is China’s water problem?
With the growth of the middle class and urbanisation, factories and farmers are using what little water China has per person at an alarming rate.

How is this impacting on China’s energy production?
China relies on coal for 70 per cent of its electricity. For every tonne of coal that is dug out, miners use five tonnes of water to process it. There are stretches of coal-rich regions that are already inactive because of lack of water.

Has water conservation caught on yet?
The government is trying to raise water prices in a way that won’t create protests. But it’s doing that very slowly. China has among the lowest water rates of all the industrialising countries.

What’s your prediction for the future?
Around the year 2025, China will hit its energy-water wall. It will be inescapable.


The special section on Singapore’s energy sector in the July/August issue contained some editing errors. The Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant is test bedding membrane bioreactor technology for water treatment. Marina Barrage stretches 350m across the mouth of the Marina Channel and creates Singapore’s first reservoir in the city, Marina Reservoir. The Marina Catchment is the largest catchment in Singapore.

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