The systemic unbridled logging throughout the country has resulted in the precious rainforests vanishing

Environmental wellbeing has always been taken for granted or is simply underrated in Malaysia. Whilst the world commemorates World Environment Day today (Tuesday), back home the commitment towards environment is hardly worthy of an applause.

The systemic unbridled logging throughout the country has resulted in the precious rainforests vanishing.

Just days ago, Sabah chief minister Mohd Shafie Apdal made the clarion call that the state would review logging and consider fast tracking flood mitigation projects to solve flash floods plaguing Sabah.

Mohd Shafie had assigned blame on heavy logging as one factor that contributed to the flash floods which had affected several districts in Sabah following continuous rainfall since May 31.

He had last month also imposed a temporary ban on export of logs and instructed a review of all logging concessions and Forest Management Units (FMUs) in the state – this was to ensure all logging activities were by the book and no longer posed any harm to forests, water catchment areas and wildlife habitats.

While the Sabah chief minister is pulling the plug on excessive logging beleaguering the state, the same cannot be said of Sarawak, as more than 80% of the state’s forests having been felled.

Likewise, illegal logging taking place rampantly in Kelantan and the clearing of forests for agricultural purposes resulted in the destruction of the main water catchment area for the orang asli villagers.

With water no where in sight, the RM222 million allocated for water treatment plants in 42 orang asli villages in the 2017 Budget begged clarity.

The indiscriminate logging activities also adversely affected the quality of life of the orang asli community, with more than 30% living in poverty, much higher than the national average of four percent

With forests being cleared at the expense of nation’s ecosystem and biodiversity, news that the Environment Ministry would take shape by end of June comes as a relief.

“We are trying our best to set up the full Cabinet as soon as possible. I’m sure we will get our act together after Hari Raya,” Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah had said over the weekend.

She however was quick to emphasis the importance the Pakatan Harapan-led federal government gave to environmental issues, saying the promise made in the PH election manifesto to priortise environment would be fulfilled.

Maria lamented the dismal awareness on environmental issues and hoped the scenario would change when the Environment Minister comes on board.

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2014 report revealed that almost 34% of orang asli households live in poverty, with Malaysia claiming only 0.6% of the population existing below the national poverty line.

Indiscriminate logging harming the environment

Peka Malaysia, an NGO fighting to stop the destruction of natural resources and to safeguard the environment, meanwhile hopes prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad whilst having devised an ingenious way to rehabilitate the nation from the financial crisis facing it, would do the same to heal the country’s ailing environment, given the many threats facing it.

“Peka hopes the Environment Ministry can take shape the soonest possible because until such time environmental activists like myself are in the dark as to whom to turn to for help to put an end to the rampant logging taking place.

“Loggers have little concern for standard operating procedures or SOP and our environment ends up as casualty over and over. This cavalier practice by loggers cannot go on,” Peka Malaysia president Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil on bemoaned.

Commenting on the setting up of the Environment Ministry, the Peka Malaysia chief in a press statement said the NGO had in April prior to the 14th general election being held, met up with Mahathir, then opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan chief and prime minister designate to highlight worries over the environment.

“We then relayed our concerns about the wellbeing of our environment and hoped that he would should PH assume federal power place equal emphasis on dealing with environmental issues.

“Peka steadfastly agrees with Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah that environmental awareness in Malaysia is dismal and need to be heightened with the help of the new Environment Minister.”

Shariffa Sabrina said perilous mega projects like the East Coast Railway Link or ECRL came with many red flags, all which threatened to harm the country’s biodiversity and ecosystem.

“The ECRL project must be scrapped because the harm it will cause our environment is much much greater than one can care to imagine in terms of biodiversity.

“We are concerned that ECRL will traverse the Central Forest Spine (CFS), as well as coastal forest areas, wetlands and rivers.

“All these are part of sensitive and interconnected ecosystems, and home to many endangered and rare wildlife species, including tigers, elephants, tapirs and sun bears.

“It is very sad that environmental issues are always put on the back burner. This indifference towards Mother Nature must change,” Shariffa Sabrina decried.

Rampant logging has become the biggest threat to Malaysia’s environment, with the damage caused never more evident than in 2014 when the horrific monsoonal floods left more than 200,000 people homeless and 21 others dead.

Kelantan was the worst hit and its then Menteri Besar Ahmad Yakob blamed “illegal land clearing and logging” for the devastating floods.

Ahmad had claimed the government always capped logging at 5,960ha a year, the standard set by the National Land Council. But former PAS leader Husam Musa had begged otherwise and dropped the bombshell that Kelantan had approved an additional 4,500 hectares to a private company for logging, while 9,000 acres were to be used for palm oil tree planting.

“The rain was the main cause of the floods, but the huge floods this time around can also be traced back to deforestation,” forest researcher Lim Teck Wyn told news portal Malaysiakini in January 2015.

Much damage caused by logging

Then, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Shahidan Kassim had post-the catastrophic 2014 floods also blamed unconstrained logging in Kelantan as the cause of the state’s wrecked geosystem.“At the moment, flood-mitigation projects cannot solve the problem but we need to carry out reforestation in the areas involved.

“In Kelantan, the way they’re cutting down the forest trees, it is as though the state has no law, while the department which should be looking after the forests, has not taken action.”

Kelantan aside, states like Johor, Pahang, Perak and Terengganu have all fallen victim to deforestation.

The hazards of logging cannot be overemphasised. Last year, a 30km-long logjam along the Balui River in Sarawak was blamed on commercial logging activities.

Balui River is about 130km from the Bakun hydroelectric dam and is situated inside the dam’s reservoir.

“The root cause for such a massive quantity (of logs) to accumulate cannot be natural.

“Judging from the quantity of the debris, it can’t be from the subsistence farming normally done by villagers in Sarawak, but instead from commercial land clearing and logging activities by corporations,” Save Rivers, an NGO campaigning against the destructive effects of dams in Sarawak, decried.

According to The Borneo Post, log debris had been collecting along the river since 2011 and was most congested at Long Jawie in Belaga, more than 200km inland from Bintulu.

The logjam has blocked river ways, making river trips a dangerous activity.

Save Rivers accused the Forest Department Sarawak of being unwilling to acknowledge commercial logging activities as the root cause of logjams in Sarawak.

It also accused state authorities of negligence, claiming little had been done about pollution in Sarawak rivers.

In 2015, Borneo Post reported another logjam in rivers leading to the Bakun hydroelectric dam, with logging activities around the dam cited as the root cause.

In 2010 a 48km-long logjam occurred along Rajang River, Malaysia’s longest river.

It was also caused by extensive legal and illegal logging, according to Sarawak Report.

With so much harm and damage inflicted by logging activities, the question that Peka Malaysia asks the present day federal government is, “what will it take for logging to be outlawed and our country’s forests rescued and ecosystem healed?”.