PETALING JAYA: Kedah plans to set up a “Geopark Department” dedicated to preserving Langkawi’s natural environment and local communities, amid reports that the island risks losing its Unesco Global Geopark status.
State Religious, Tourism and Heritage, and Public Works Committee chairman Mohd Rawi Abd Hamid said the government was trying to minimise environmental damage due to growth of tourism, as well as eradicate illegal logging and other destructive activities.
“The challenge is to strike a balance between the economic needs of the people and environmental concerns,” he told FMT .
Ani-graft group, Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Centre), has claimed that Langkawi is on the verge of “coming close” to losing its Unesco status due to the prevalence of “ill-advised” activities.
In its report, “Langkawi: Good Governance, the Pillar to a Successful Tourism Industry”, C4 Centre claimed that the Kedah government was not doing enough to raise awareness among locals about the Unesco listing and the island’s heritage.
Rawi said authorities have often gone to the ground to educate people on the issue.
He said the geopark department would spearhead the preservation efforts, and conduct programmes with local communities and stakeholders.
“For this, we will need more resources and support from the federal government, as well as NGOs and the private sector,” he said.
He said big firms could also play a part.
“In Phuket, you see many big companies like Toyota conducting mangrove planting programmes but we don’t have such company contributions here,” he said.
“So we hope NGOs can assist us in getting more corporations involved in preservation efforts.”
Meanwhile, the tourism industry does not agree with C4 Centre’s claim.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) said the island had passed Unesco’s last validation with “flying colours”.
Matta president Tan Kok Liang said state authorities, NGOs and a number of companies were doing their part to preserve the geopark, though he admitted that more could be done in terms of enforcement.
Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) president Uzaidi Udanis said C4 Centre’s claim was speculative although the concerns it raised were not new.
“The Unesco status is crucial to our rice bowl and I believe the Langkawi Development Authority (Lada) will take the necessary measures to resolve the outstanding issues,” he said.
It was previously reported that an inspection mission conducted by Unesco’s representatives in 2011 found a number of shortcomings in the management of the island as a geopark. After an appeal from Malaysian authorities, Unesco allowed the status to continue.
In 2015, Unesco conducted another inspection and gave Langkawi a “green card” to keep the status.