Think tank warns Penang will go dry if Kedah logging not checked

Martin-Khor-pulau-pinang-flags-1GEORGE TOWN: The head of a Geneva-based inter-governmental think tank has warned that Penang may lose most of its water supply if logging continues unabated in the Ulu Muda forest reserve in Kedah.

South Centre executive director Martin Khor said there was an urgent need to protect the ecosystem there as 80% of Penang’s supply was derived from water catchment sources in the neighbouring state.

He said there was “a very big battle” to save Kedah’s forests and the water that they provide.

“If the forest reserve goes and we do not have water from Kedah, I do not know if we can build enough reservoirs. We may have to convert Bayan Lepas (in Penang) into a reservoir,” said the Penang-born economist and civil society activist.

“We have to protect these ecosystems. Are we doing it in Penang? Including the rivers and the forests?” he said at a symposium titled “Can Penang be made sustainable by 2030?” here yesterday.

His remarks followed a report by The Star on logging in over 500ha of forest reserve in Bukit Enggang, Kedah, which falls under the Ulu Muda area, without an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Ulu Muda is also a main source of water for several dams which provide water to Perlis and Kedah.

Khor said one aspect of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was to protect and restore water-related ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes.

He said this was relevant to Penang. “It is not just to improve water quality and reduce pollution, but to make sure we have water in the future,” he said

“And water, of course, is the forest. What are we doing about the forests?”

He said many logging companies were cutting down forests in Kedah that had been de-gazetted by the government.

“When they chop down the forest, (they say) it is not a forest because it has been de-gazetted as a forest… They (say they are) not doing anything wrong,” he added.

Meanwhile, Penang local government, traffic management and flood mitigation committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said in his keynote address that the problem involved trans-boundary issues with Kedah.

“It is important that Penang makes representation not only to the Kedah government, but also to the federal government to stop illegal logging and deforestation in Kedah, which affects all of us in Penang,” he said.

He said he had proposed that the Penang Water Supply Corporation hold a state-wide campaign to pressure Putrajaya and Kedah to ensure deforestation in Ulu Muda would not bring about adverse implications to the water supply in Penang.

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