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Environmental issues and terrorism continued to threaten travel security across Asia this past week.
In South Asia, the monsoon season brought floods and related aftereffects, with the death toll rising to over 300 by 22 July in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Eastern India, especially Bihar and Assam states, were particularly affected. In Bangladesh, 61 deaths and 800,000 have been people displaced across a third of the country, especially in the north and northwest. In China, 13 died and 30 are missing after heavy rains triggered a landslide in Guizhou province, a reminder that landslide danger exists in China’s rural and mountainous regions.
In Malaysia, the medical threat posed by air pollution surfaced again in the Johor town of Pasir Gudang, with the latest incident causing breathing difficulties and vomiting among students at multiple schools. In addition to factories identified by government agencies as the possible source of the air pollution, a debate has erupted over whether bird droppings are also to blame.
Indonesia police announced on 23 July that a recently arrested terror suspect was plotting attacks for Indonesia’s Independence Day celebrations on 17 August, and that he was part of a network under police watch for links to regional and global terror networks. Authorities also confirmed that an Indonesian couple affiliated with the Islamic State-linked terrorist group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah was responsible for the suicide bombing of a church on Jolo Island in the Philippines earlier this year. The suicide bombers were identified by terrorists arrested in Indonesia and Malaysia last month, with the alleged mastermind believed to be in Afghanistan.
Stay Safe the Week of 22-July
Water levels started to recede in some of the worst-affected areas affected by monsoon rains, but after floodwaters recede ongoing risks include landslides and infectious diseases such as diarrhoea. Prior to visiting urban or rural areas research the infrastructure as well as public health risks that remain after heavy flooding.
We continue to advise travellers to Singapore (including areas near to Johor), and those crossing the causeway into Johor, to check the latest developments in Johor air pollution situation, and if you’re going to be near the impact area, wear suitable face masks such as the R95. The continued occurrence of air pollution victims in Pasir Gudang and the suggestion of new causes indicates the that state and federal government agencies are unable to conclusively identify the cause, which thus delays effective action. If travelling with young children, the elderly, or those with respiratory problems, we recommend speaking first to a physician who has read the latest news reports
While the success of counter-terrorism efforts in terms of arrests highlights the effectiveness of local security forces, they also indicate continued threat in a domain that is fundamentally asymmetric, i.e. it is very difficult to stop a determined terrorist, especially if he or she operates alone and is not overly ambitious. A self-radicalised individual can conduct an attack using common tools like vehicles and knives. Recent arrests in Indonesia underscore the cross border nature of terrorist organisations, but do not dismiss reported terror threats in the locality that you are visiting anywhere in South and Southeast Asia and especially if your plans include large outdoor events such as a national day celebration.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau Outbound Travel Alert
There are no changes to the Hong Kong Security Bureau’s Outbound Travel Alert (OTA) in the past week. However, on 19 July the OTA’s editor kindly shared the Department of Health’s warning that the World Health Organisation declared the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and “the public should avoid unnecessary travel to affected areas”. We prefer Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade travel advisory for the DRC: Think seriously about whether you need to travel here due to the high level of risk.
Does this column make you feel unsafe? Worried about traveling in Asia? Send your questions about travel security to [email protected]
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He has run The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, founded The Lion Rock Institute and has over 25 years engagement in media, politics, policy and community engagement.
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