En­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion puts in­dus­tries, qual­ity of life at risk

Il­le­gal plan­ta­tions and baux­ite min­ing must be taken se­ri­ously as de­struc­tion of na­ture can lead to a neg­a­tive domino ef­fect

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is NST Pa­hang staff cor­re­spon­dent. He seeks plea­sure in con­tem­pla­tive pur­suits like view­ing thought-pro­vok­ing doc­u­men­taries and read­ing

THE nat­u­ral beauty of Pa­hang is ev­i­dent in the green­ery that canopies vast swaths of forested hills and val­leys that make up most of its 36,137 sq km area.

An­cient rivers like Sun­gai Pa­hang, doc­u­mented in the Ming Dy­nasty’s Mao Kun Map in the 17th cen­tury, flow be­tween the rain­forests that hold the land to­gether.

Long-tailed ma­caques, bark­ing deer and wild boars flit be­tween the forest trails as ot­ters swim in Sun­gai Tem­bel­ing; the fa­mous

and other aquatic life scurry back and forth in Sun­gai Rompin, which flows out to the vast South China Sea.

How­ever, the nat­u­ral bal­ance of the ecosys­tem is frag­ile and can eas­ily be dis­rupted by mod­ern in­dus­tries that power the state’s econ­omy.

In 2015, due to extensive baux­ite min­ing in lo­ca­tions like Felda Bukit Goh, Bukit Kuan­tan and Be­serah, there was a hue and cry for bet­ter stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures when vil­lage roads turned red with dust, earn­ing com­par­isons to Mars.

The neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity be­came such that on Jan 15 last year, the Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry im­posed a mora­to­rium on baux­ite min­ing in Pa­hang un­til stock­piles were cleared and clean-up of the mines were com­pleted.

How­ever, in the last six months, vil­lagers in Felda Bukit Kuan­tan and in Kam­pung Jeram, Be­serah, Kuan­tan, be­came sus­pi­cious that min­ing of the valu­able min­eral con­tin­ued.

Felda Bukit Kuan­tan set­tlers claim that min­ers mined un­der the cover of noc­tur­nal dark­ness. For the folks in Kam­pung Jeram, their sus­pi­cion was first trig­gered when two ex­ca­va­tors sud­denly ap­peared in the vil­lage, with a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the min­ers claim­ing that they had a per­mit to clear baux­ite stock­piles.

What was more in­trigu­ing was when the ex­ca­va­tors dis­ap­peared the fol­low­ing day when vil­lagers con­fronted the min­ers.

Through­out it all, the state au­thor­i­ties claimed that the work be­ing car­ried out was merely stock­pile clear­ing or that they had placed in­spec­tion per­son­nel at some lo­ca­tions to en­sure only stock­pile clear­ing was car­ried out.

Baux­ite min­ing is not the only en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sue be­set­ting the state that raises the ques­tion about po­lit­i­cal will to stamp out per­pe­tra­tors of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion.

Early this year, en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist R. Ramakrishnan told the that three rivers in Cameron High­lands had been de­clared bi­o­log­i­cally dead.

Ramakrishnan, who is also Re­gional Aware­ness Cameron High­lands pres­i­dent, said only 10 per cent of 123 rivers in the high­lands were in healthy con­di­tion due mainly to de­vel­op­ment pro­jects and agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties.

How­ever, state Pub­lic Ameni­ties and En­vi­ron­ment Com­mit­tee chair­man Datuk Seri Mohd Soffi Ab­dul Razak dis­missed the claim, say­ing data from the state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment showed that Sun­gai Tringkap, Sun­gai Icat and Sun­gai Parang were not in Class V, which was the bi­o­log­i­cally dead cat­e­gory.

Hints that the en­vi­ron­men­tal in­tegrity of Cameron High­lands should be re-looked can be seen on April 9 when two veg­etable grow­ers were hauled to the Kuan­tan Ses­sions Court over graft.

Later, on May 12, at the same court, two flower plan­ta­tion own­ers pleaded guilty to brib­ing au­thor­i­ties to ig­nore their il­le­gal small­hold­ings.

These cor­rup­tion cases hint at on­go­ing un­sanc­tioned agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties that have been linked to en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion of the fer­tile high­lands, doc­u­mented as far back as 2012 in a sur­vey by the Malaysian Re­mote Sens­ing Agency.

On May 17, an on­line news por­tal car­ried a state­ment by Sa­ha­bat Alam Malaysia (SAM) that urged the Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry to dis­close the find­ings of the Pa­hang Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment on the sources of pol­lu­tion of Sun­gai Pa­hang, Sun­gai Te­mer­loh, Tasik Chini and Tasik Mentiga.

SAM’s as­ser­tion that il­le­gal log­ging still con­tin­ues in ar­eas near Tasik Chini flies in the face of the min­istry’s find­ing that there is no il­le­gal log­ging near the lake, which was once a haven for an­glers and where lo­tus plants grew in abun­dance.

What is par­tic­u­larly telling is that on March 13, the NST re­ported that an Orang Asli com­mu­nity leader urged the gov­ern­ment to step up ef­forts to re­vive the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest fresh­wa­ter lake and in­crease re­for­esta­tion mea­sures.

En­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion is a se­ri­ous mat­ter that needs to be taken se­ri­ously as fail­ure to halt it would lead to a neg­a­tive domino ef­fect.

First, much of the flora and fauna of the af­fected area would die or de­plete, threat­en­ing the frag­ile ecosys­tem that sus­tains na­ture. Sec­ond, the qual­ity of life of hu­mans liv­ing near the area may be jeop­ar­dised as their wa­ter sup­ply and air qual­ity would be af­fected. Third, the in­dus­tries such as eco­tourism and fresh­wa­ter fish farm­ing, among oth­ers, would be neg­a­tively af­fected, fur­ther im­pact­ing the liveli­hood of Pa­hang res­i­dents re­liant on the state’s boun­ti­ful nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

All stake­hold­ers — en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, Orang Asli, ur­ban and ru­ral res­i­dents, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments as well as their agen­cies — must come to­gether to cre­ate a pos­i­tive domino ef­fect to en­sure the preser­va­tion of mother na­ture and shared pros­per­ity for us all.

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