Page: Before it is Too Late

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24 October 2011

Heed the Alarm Before it's Too Late

WHILE Malaysia has enjoyed impressive economic growth over the last 40 years, there has been substantial, irreparable and avoidable loss of her natural capital. Recognised as one of 12 countries blessed with mega biodiversity, Malaysia has difficulty securing its remaining wildlife.

If forest cover is about 60%, it is thanks to Food and Agriculture Organisation’s generous definition of a "forest" – land with at least 10% of tree crown cover and which can include forestry-type plantations. Our forests, degraded by logging, replaced by plantations, fragmented by roads, and raided frequently by poachers, harbour alarmingly declining numbers of wildlife.

In the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, Malaysia has the world’s third highest number of plants and animals threatened with extinction. The list warns of the disappearance of the tiger, sambar deer, rhinoceros, elephant, tapir, sun bear, orangutan, pangolin, hawksbill and leatherback turtles, among others, if business-as-usual continues. In a trade powered by demand from China, Vietnam and Thailand, Malaysia has emerged as a hub in the smuggling of wildlife and wildlife products. To stop the demand and the trade, we need help.

High conservation value lowland forests have been all but lost to plantations and urban development. More forests and habitats are being lost to oil palm, rubber and mega projects to supply energy or water, phenomena mostly driven by top down decision-makers working in concert and non-transparently with private sector players. In this regard, Sarawak’s headlong conversion of peat swamp forests to oil palm, embarking on the "necklace" of 12 hydro-electric mega projects and concessions for high-impact logging (to clear the way for plantations), all of which simultaneously dispossess native people of their customary lands, show naked abandon. To stop the depletion of forests, we need help.

Logging and oil palm companies take their plunder-for-profit expertise to countries around the world. To reform these companies, we need help.

Domestic sewage, waste from livestock and farms, discharges from agro-based and other industries, silt from earthworks and logging roads, and leachate from dumps pollute rivers and inland waters. Marine waters are similarly affected. Clearing of mangroves, overfishing, diving and snorkelling hasten the loss of coral reefs beyond the bleaching induced by warmer seas. Trawlers equipped with nets hundreds of metres long fish illegally in costal waters. Our fish stock has declined by 90% since the 70s. To save our corals and fish, we need help.

The quality of the urban environment comes closer to First World standards than to Third World squalor. Foreign workers collect and dispose garbage, sweep drains and retrieve leaf and litter from public areas to help us. There are intermittent periods of haze caused by distant forest clearing but air quality is generally acceptable, thanks in good measure to abundant rain. Urban green lungs, essential for air quality as well as for aesthetics and spiritual well-being survive in ever-diminishing pockets in the face of pressures from developers and a surging population. Spatial planning, not defined by urban intensification, has given way to urban sprawl and a confusing tangle of tolled highways. If public transport infrastructure is second rate, it serves as a life support to the car industry by putting record numbers of cars on the road.

Land, water, plants and animals suffer from slack enforcement of regulations. Still, many problems begin "upstream".

Decision-making favouring runaway economic development reflects little or no appreciation of ecosystems and the value of sustaining their services. Poor coordination and non-interaction among too many government agencies vested with bits of authority result in economic planning decisions that compromise the environment. Much of this is facilitated by a public and leaders who remain largely unaware of a vanishing paradise. To inform and engage them, we need help.

We need help – big time.

JC Tansen
Petaling Jaya

Source: The Sun Daily


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