FMT LETTER: From Lim Teck Wyn, via e-mail
Politics, race and religion tend to be divisive but all Malaysians can unite around our beautiful natural heritage, our green environment and lush rainforests. It is thus worth examining this year’s Merdeka theme “Janji Ditepati” (Promises Fulfilled) from the perspective of nature conservation.
To start with, we rightly celebrate that the British kept their promise to grant us our independence and we have steered the course of our own development over the last 55 years. However, human development has not been without cost to the natural world and our growing cities, agriculture and infrastructure all have taken a toll.
Recognising the need to strike a balance, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir, pledged to keep 50% of Malaysia’s land area under forest cover. This promise was made to the leaders of the world assembled at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
Today, the official statistics suggest that we still have 56% of our forest intact. However, independent satellite analysis reveals that this figure includes plantations and the true area of natural forest is 14,962,000 hectares, which is only 45% of our land area.
In Rio we also signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, pledging to conserve our plants, animals and their habitats. Today, however, the rhino, the banteng and the leatherback turtle are no longer found in Peninsular Malaysia.
The call of the Burung Merak (the green peacock) is no longer heard on our shores. The last remaining stands of the Pokok Damar Hitam (Shorea kuantanensis) have been cleared for a Felda plantation and this tree species has now been declared to be extinct.
Scores of other Malaysian endemics are classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and are thus on the verge of extinction. Even the wild population of our national mascot, the Malayan Tiger, has dwindled to less than 500 and they continue to face serious threats from rampant poaching and the continued destruction and fragmentation of their forest home.
Unfortunately, even the remaining forest constituted in “permanent” reserves is not safe from the chainsaw, the bulldozer and the expansion of the concrete jungle. Wildlife reserves, forest reserves and state parks are routinely cleared to make way for the relentless expansion of civilisation.
On Aug 27, 2005, you officiated the launch of the Selangor State Park whereby the government promised to “conserve and nurture” the forest for future generations. However, there is now a plan to build a highway right through this heritage park.
The Highways Authority proposes to destroy hundreds of hectares of forest in the Selangor State Park in order to build the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE). The plan is for this route to be the final section of the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road (KLORR), linking Cheras with Bukit Antarabangsa and hopefully alleviating jams on the MRR2.
However, the proposed alignment of the highway would cut through the Ampang Forest Reserve -ma water catchment area that was gazetted as far back as 1912 in order to protect the Ampang water intake point which is a source of fresh water for the Klang Valley.
The protection of the Selangor State Park is also important for flood mitigation. It has been reported that the flash flood on March 8, 2012 forced hundreds of Ampang residents to evacuate their homes and caused damage exceeding RM10 million.
The proposed EKVE may lead to or exacerbate future floods which are becoming a significant problem in the Klang Valley which has already experienced eight serious floods this year. In keeping with the theme of Janji Ditepati, now is the time for the federal and state governments to make good on the pledge to conserve our forests.
Let’s act now and ensure that we keep all forest reserves covered by natural forest, put a halt to the excision of reserves and create new totally protected areas. In particular, let us protect Ampang Forest Reserve and make sure that any highway would not damage the forest.
In our pursuit of development, let us honour the promises we have made to future generations in Malaysia and in the world. In this way we can celebrate our independence with pride.
The writer is Hon Secretary of the Malaysian Nature Society