Kudos to the DOE for making a brave but right decision

Kudos to the DOE for making a brave but right decision when rejecting the heli-logging project in Kedah

I refer to articles in the Star, Much to lose despite heli-logging (March 25, Star Two), Seriously Flawed (April 01, 2003), as well as other feedbacks carried in the paper on the Kedah heli-logging issue. Admittedly, despite all the concern about the immense negative effects (environment, ecology, social and economics) the project will cause when a pristine forest is logged, few are convinced that raising such objections in the press would bring any positive results. Meaning to say, even the most ardent of activists actually sense, deep down inside, that with a state government and giant timber company pushing for the project, the conclusion is a forgone one (Fact is, the Kedah State Government had already approved in principle the project to log 122,798ha of the Ulu Muda and its adjacent forest reserves last March, subject to the approval of the DEIA). Then to the surprise of all (I really mean ALL), the DOE rejects the Detailed EIA report. So, for once, I call on all parties to applause the DOE for being brave enough to do the right thing in rejecting the project.  

According to the director-general of the DOE, the DEIA failed to meet the department’s requirements, as among other things, the content of the report was incomplete and steps to minimise the environmental impact of logging were insufficient. Now comes the dreaded part – The DG explains “It is now up to the project proponent to submit another report or to consider another option for the project.” In fact, as soon as the DOE rejected the DEIA, the Kedah Mentri Besar has promised that a new environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the project will be submitted soon, and that new report would contain a review of several technical factors that were noted to be lacking by the DOE. So, it’s back to square one and the process starts all over again. When reviewing the new DEIA report, we the concerned rakyat, asked that the DOE be as brave as before. The DOE must be objective and professional, and not let any party/s influence affect/cloud its judgement. On another note, consultants employed (whether the same consultants or otherwise) to rewrite the new DEIA report should be highly professional, objective and have a clear conscience of what they are doing. The effects of the project would only be felt many years later, and when disaster strikes, what will then happen to their professional credibility? Is the paltry consultant fee worth one’s credibility and conscience? Many consultants have shied away from controversial projects like this, but to the brave ones who dare to venture into the viper’s nest, they better be prepared to get bitten.   

Leaving aside the DEIA and technical aspects of the project, there should be other reasons to consider. The fact is, heli-logging has not been convincingly successful, even in developed countries. The operating costs are significantly higher than conventional logging, more hazardous, and it uses a large number of skilled workers (may have to be imported). Logically, if the project proponent sticks to 3 trees per acre, the heli-logging venture will not be commercially viable. Of greater concern is that it may leave the forest open to illegal loggers once the 3 trees are taken out. Also, the paltry sum of RM6.25mil a year earned from timber royalty by Kedah is ludicrous when one considers the hundreds of millions earned from the rice industry, ecotourism, and water supply. Dato Syed Muhammad Shahabudin, President of The Malaysian Water Association has suggested that it is more profitable (and acceptable) for Kedah to sell water to water-poor Penang. Based on a rate of 30 sen per 1,000 gallons, a sales volume of 100 MGD would net about RM11mil – a figure that is nearly double the revenue from heli-logging.

Currently, Penang draws 80 % of its water needs form the Sg Muda, which has its catchments in the proposed heli-logging area. Already, Penang is a very water-poor state. Penang has very little water catchments to speak of and most of our water catchments actually lie outside our boundaries. We thank Kedah for releasing water from the Muda Dam during the 1997/98 El Nino which averted a water crisis in Penang. Kedah should again consider the implications of the heli-logging project on Penang’s water supply and be sensitive to a brother state’s needs. I think the Penang State Government also views the project with great concern, and would be willing to negotiate for future inter-state water transfer from Kedah. Elsewhere, in electronics and computer and high-tech industries, Penang can share much with Kedah (which is also developing such industries). There are certainly many areas of mutual collaboration between Penang and Kedah. Finally, the Kedah State Government should now be brave, just like the DOE. Clearly, the project is highly controversial and problematic, not to mention the public outcry and objections. We, the concerned rakyat, appeal to the Kedah State Government to reconsider their intention to log a pristine forest which acts as a water catchment, biodiversity reservoir, ecotourism haven, climatic control element, soil erosion, sedimentation and flood control, and ecological habitat. Better still, gazette the area as a National or State Park for all eternity.

Dr Chan Ngai Weng


Water Watch Penang

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Alert for Ulu Muda Logging Proposal

Emerging gold pot

Sunday Star, 20 January, 2008

LONG dubbed as Malaysia’s Rice Bowl, Kedah is now an emerging Gold Pot. Branding of Kedah as a Gold Pot would be timely as Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah of Kedah, being the longest reigning monarch in the country, celebrates his Golden anniversary this year. Kedah is undoubtedly a Gold Pot as it tops the country’s capital investment chart two years in a row. The state attracted RM13.9bil in investment between January and September last year, followed by Johor (RM7.2bil), Selangor (RM6bil), Sabah (RM2.8bil), Penang (RM2.5bil), Terengganu (RM1.8bil), Negeri Sembilan (RM1.7bil), Pahang (RM1.17bil), Perak (RM818mil), Malacca (RM705mil), Sarawak (RM544mil), Kuala Lumpur (RM72.6mil), Kelantan (RM47.8mil) and Perlis (RM7.1mil). In 2006, Kedah attracted RM9.8bil in capital investment, accounting for about 21% of the country’s total proposed capital investment of RM45.99bil. Kedah’s largest foreign direct investment came from Iran (RM2.97bil), followed by Japan (RM2.5bil), and Singapore (RM569.9mil). The bulk of capital investment in Kedah is actually from domestic sources (RM7.7bil last year and RM8bil in 2006). Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said the state had embarked on a Kedah Gemilang development strategy to boost economic growth and improve Kedahans’ livelihood. “We have implemented various strategic programmes to achieve a developed state status by 2020,” he said. Kedah is also banking on the implementation of the North Corridor Economic Region (NCER) to boost development. Mahdzir said RM9.3bil had been allotted for Kedah under the Ninth Malaysia Plan. High-impact projects include development of a petrochemical zone in Yan, creation of Halal Industrial Hub in Sungai Petani, setting up of rice-based industry in MADA zones, tourism projects in Gunung Jerai and Sungai Merbok, and agro-based industries in Sik, Baling and Padang Terap. Upgrading and expansion of Kulim Hi-Tech Park and Gurun Heavy Industrial Park are also under way. Gurun is also established as an automotive manufacturing centre. Also in the pipeline are the Kedah Waterfront project in Kuala Kedah and development of a traditional farming village in Gunung Keriang. Kedah has recorded a 6% Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with per capita income of RM11,711.47. “The economic climate in Kedah is favourable, given the quantum of domestic and foreign direct investment,” Mahdzir said. Industrial development Industrial zones covering more than 640ha have been established with more than 460 factories operating in Kulim, Sungai Petani, Bakar Arang, Kuala Ketil, Jitra, Alor Star and Bukit Kayu Hitam. Industrial activities here mainly involve manufacturing of food, electrical and electronic goods, plastic and rubber products, and textile. Automative and related industries are concentrated in the sprawling 50ha heavy industrial park in Gurun. Kulim Hi-Tech Park, which has emerged as wafer fabrication centre in the region, has attracted investment amounting to RM21bil. Among the multi-national corporations in operation in the 480ha Kulim Hi-Tech Park are Intel, Fuji Electrical, Siltera, Infineon Technologies and First Solar. Agriculture development As the Rice Bowl of the nation, Kedah continues efforts to modernise the farming sector. Kedah boasts 100,000 ha of padi fields that contribute 40% of national rice production. However, Mahdzir said the state would no longer focus mainly on padi. “We want to help farmers get better returns from various existing resources. “Among the activities that have great potential are aquaculture, corn and herbal farming, and food processing.” Kedah is establishing agro-based industries in Sik, Baling and Padang Terap. Kedah is also one of the main producers of rubber with 250,000ha of estates. Oil palm, tobacco and sugar cane estates cover 56,000 ha. Kedah is also actively promoting fruit farming. Tourism development Exciting programmes have been lined up for Visit Kedah 2008. More that 70 programmes including cultural festivals, sports events, games and recreational activities, and special events to commemorate Tuanku Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah’s 50-year reign have been lined up. Events in Langkawi include Sauk Sotong, Langkawi Perdana International Regatta, Le Tour Langkawi, Chap Goh Mei celebration, national water festival, Langkawi-Adang-Satun International Fishing Challenge, Langkawi Wilderness Challenge, Seventh Malaysian Hash Run Langkawi, Eco-games championship and the 18th Pelangi International Golf Cup championship. Other programmes include Islander Music and Dance Festival, Fire-fighting Competition Langkawi, Play Smart Scientific Trail Expedition, Rambutan Trail, International Sand Sculpture, Langkawi Geopark Beach Run, Hot and Happening Weekend, and Langkawi International Mood Jazz Festival. Also in the cards are the 51st Merdeka Eve celebration, Langkawi Ramadan Bazaar, World Tourism Day celebration, Langkawi Mackerel Run and Langkawi La Craft Festival. On the mainland, among the events lined up are the International Lion Dance championship, Padi Festival, Hot Air Balloon Kedah, Four By Four International Challenge, Boxing Malaysia Open, Songkran Festival, Jet Ski championship, Darulaman Golf Master, Kedah International Media Hunt, Royal International Shooting Competition, Tomoi International championship, Pencak Silat championship, Kedah marathon Futsal Open and Indoor Sports Carnival. Mahdzir said RM69.8mil had been allocated under the Ninth Malaysia Plan to upgrade existing facilities and set up new ones. Kedah’s attractions include the world’s longest canopy walk amid the rainforest in Sungai Sedim, Kulim; the Langkawi Geopark; the world’s largest collection of Malay Royal manuscripts; and the Lembah Bujang heritage site, which is believed to be older than Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and Indonesia’s Borobodur. Natural attractions on mainland Kedah include Ulu Muda Eco Park, the oldest tropical forest in the northern region; Merbok Forest Reserve; Ulu Legong Hotspring; man-made Pedu Lake; and scenic Muda Lake. Kedah recorded 407,191 tourist arrivals on the mainland and 2.2 million in Langkawi in 2006. Of the total, 1.8 million were domestic tourists. Kedah hopes to attract about 5 million tourists this year. Human capital development Kedah aims to make 1.8mil of its residents savvy in Information Communication Technology (ICT). ICT trainings are incorporated in various programmes including entrepreneur development programmes. Kedahans are generally keen on ICT, as almost one-third of the households in Kedah have access to Internet. Kedah has recorded 111,915 Internet subscribers in 2006. More than 350,000 households in Kedah have fixed telephone line. Kedah boasts higher learning institutes such as Universiti Utara Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Universiti Insaniah, Kolej Universiti Al-Bukhari, Universiti Kuala Lumpur, Institut Latihan Perindustrian, and several colleges and technical training institutes that provide that catalyst for human capital development in the state. Poverty eradication A multi-pronged approach is taken to improve livelihood through education, and skills training programmes in a move to eradicate hardcore poverty by 2010. The state government has also allocated funds to build and repair homes of the hardcore poor. According to the 2006 statistics released by Kedah Economic Planning Unit, the highest number of hardcore poor households is in Padang Terap (621), followed by Kota Setar (423), Sik (322), Kubang Pasu (279), Pendang (257), Baling (226), Kuala Muda (211), Yan (189), Kulim (98), Bandar Baharu (98), and Langkawi (12). Generally, the number of hardcore poor households has decreased from 4,363 in 2000 to 2,780 in 2006. Hardcore Poor Housing Project recipients have decreased tremendously from 6,137 in 2000 to 2,016 in 2006.  

Reconsider logging plan

The Star, Saturday June 21, 2008

The Kedah Government’s recent announcement to allow logging in the Ulu Muda, Pedu and Ahning Dam forest reserves is alarming. More pertinently, the logging will take place in the water catchment areas of the three reservoirs.The purpose of the proposed logging is to raise funds for the state. However, such short-term gain will come at a terrible price.The forests in northern Kedah are arguably the most strategic in Malaysia, not only in terms of biodiversity but also in terms of national security.The three dams are a crucial part of the irrigation infrastructure of Kedah’s rice fields.They form a vital component of the rice belt that supplies the nation with at least half its rice needs. Logging their water catchment areas will decrease the capability of the three dams to attract rain and store water.Siltation caused by the logging will lower their capacity to store water. This will strain their irrigation capability and adversely affect rice production.To aggravate matters, rainfall in the Pedu-Muda area is not constant. It is highly influenced by the monsoon seasons. During the rainy season, the three dams overflow due to heavy rainfall. Increased siltation due to the logging will worsen the overflow during this time.This will lead to increasingly destructive floods downstream. During the dry season, the dams may all but dry up.Siltation caused by logging will further hamper the dams’ capability to store water for irrigation.The nation’s goal for self-sustenance in rice will be severely hampered by the proposed logging.With the supply of rice imports uncertain due to the damage caused by Typhoon Nargis, any shortage caused by failure of our rice crop will place the nation on the brink of turmoil.To date, irreversible damage has already been inflicted upon forests in that area. The construction of a four-lane expressway to replace the original road has led to massive tree felling and soil erosion. Intrusion into the forests by poachers can be expected to increase with the proposed logging.The production of wild honey, the prized product of northern Kedah will also be adversely affected as irreplaceable Tualang trees would be felled or damaged. In the end, the livelihoods of the people in the area will be affected.The state government would do well to retract this plan.NEOH HOR KEE,Kuala Lumpur.

Penang fears Kedah logging could jeopardise water supply

The Star, Saturday June 21, 2008


GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Government wants Kedah to rethink its plan to allow logging in the Muda catchment area because it could jeopardise its water supply.Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the state government was deeply concerned over the move as 80% of Penang raw water came from Sungai Muda.“We believe that logging in the Muda dam catchment area will have an adverse impact on water resources and utilisation in Penang.“At a time when our forests are dwindling, logging, especially in catchment areas, is not seen as sustainable development,” he told a press conference yesterday.He added that the country should be focused on reducing logging, not expanding it.“I understand that Kedah has been put in a difficult position following the Federal Government’s failure to deliver compensation. However, I feel that conducting RM16bil worth of logging is not a proportionate sentiment,” Lim added.On Wednesday, Kedah Mentri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak announced that the state would be calling for tenders for logging activities at the Pedu, Muda and Ahning dam catchment areas to cover high state expenditure following the petrol price hike earlier this month.Azizan said Kedah had to resort to such a move because the Federal Government had failed to deliver annual compensations of RM100mil after the state called off heli-harvesting of timber in the catchment areas in 2003.Lim said he had instructed Penang Water Supply Corporation General Manager Jaseni Maidinsa to write to Azizan. If necessary, Lim would see him directly.Jaseni, who was present at the press conference, said Penangites might see the effects of the logging in the next five years if the plan went ahead.Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) coordinator Mohd Nizam Mahshar said Penang should pay for the conservation of water catchments since Kedah needed at least RM650mil annually to maintain the Ulu Muda forest reserve.“As both states are now Pakatan Rakyat states, they should help each other out,” he said.SAM president S. M. Mohd Idris said the Government should pay a premium to any state government that took measures to protect catchment areas and the biodiversity.He said 65,000 farming families depended on the irrigation from Ulu Muda, adding that it would have an adverse impact on the current food crisis.

Kedah to use heli-harvesting

Sunday Star, Sunday June 22, 2008


ALOR STAR: The Kedah Government is going ahead with its plan to allow selective logging in the Ulu Muda catchment areas using the heli-harvesting technique.Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak, however, assured the public that the catchment areas would still be preserved because only selective logging to remove decaying trees would be allowed.“We will be using the heli-harvesting technique to remove the decaying old trees that are more than 100 or 200 years old.“That means we will only be removing a few trees every hectare,” he said.He said Kedah had no other choice as it had to cope with rising expenditure.“We are desperate to increase the revenue to make ends meet as the Federal Government is not keeping its promise to pay RM100mil annually in compensation for sparing the catchment areas,” he said.Azizan said this in response to objections from various quarters against the state’s plan to carry out logging activities in catchments.Azizan said the state need not carry out selective logging in reserved forests covering 122,000ha if the Federal Government fulfilled the promise made in 2003 to pay RM100mil a year as compensation for preserving the catchment areas.The Federal Government had paid the money once when Datuk Seri Syed Razak Syed Zain was mentri besar, he said.On calls by Sahabat Alam Malaysia for the Penang Government to pay compensation to Kedah for preserving catchments that are crucial to ensure continuous water supply to Kedah, Azizan said they would appreciate it if Penang contributed.“But it is not our intention to disturb Penang and Perlis that are dependent on water sources from Kedah,” he said.

Kedah told to be alert for loggers

The Star, Monday June 23, 2008

ALOR STAR: The state government has been told to not deal with “environmental culprits” from Sarawak who eye logging tenders in catchments.Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) coordinator Mohd Nizam Mahshar claimed that logging companies in Sarawak had bad track records.He said this in response to Mentri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak’s announcement that the state would hold discussions with a logging company from Sarawak that knew how to carry out selective logging in catchments without causing adverse impact on the environment.Mohd Nizam said environment groups would go all out to object to the heli-harvesting plan in the 122,000ha Ulu Muda forest reserve that housed the Ahning, Muda and Pedu dams.“Allowing logging in the area would be a big mistake as it would have far reaching implication on food security, and water supply,” he said.Azizan, however, has given a personal guarantee that the environment would not be affected as only the old and decaying trees would be removed.He likened the process as “removing grey hairs.”“We are merely rejuvenating the forest by removing old trees to make way for new ones,” he said after a ceramah at Muasasah Datul Ulum in Pokok Sena, held in memory of PAS leader Datuk Fadzil Noor who passed away six years ago.In any case, he said the state would not proceed with the plan without approval from the relevant authorities, including the Department of Environment.

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Ulu Muda kian terancam, sumber bekalan air di utara semenanjung turut terancam

Oleh Shahrul Izwan Naser

Mungkin ada di antara kita tidak mengetahui mengenai Hutan Simpan Ulu Muda yang terletak di utara semenanjung tanahair. Begitu juga yang tidak mengetahui kepentingan Hutan Simpan Ulu Muda yang merupakan kawasan tadahan air bagi menampung keperluan air di negeri Kedah, Pulau Pinang dan Perlis.

Sebanyak 96.5% bekalan air terawat di Kedah dan 80% bekalan air terawat di Pulau Pinang datangnya daripada 3 empangan buatan manusia — Muda, Pedu dan Ahning — yang membentuk punca air untuk Sungai Muda dan Sungai Kedah.

Ulu Muda juga merupakan sumber air untuk ‘periuk nasi’ negara apabila  sawah padi di Kedah dan selatan Perlis menerima bekalan air daripada punca hutan simpan tersebut. Bekalan air dari Ulu Muda juga membolehkan sawah padi di negeri Kedah dan kawasan dataran pantai di selatan negeri Perlis mengamalkan penanaman dua kali setahun.

Ini menyumbang kepada kira-kira 45% hingga 50% daripada pengeluaran beras negara dan merupakan sumber pendapatan bagi 55,000 buah keluarga. Ini bermakna Ulu Muda merupakan hutan tadahan air yang berkepentingan kepada negara.

Selain itu, Ulu Muda juga menjadi bekalan air utama bagi menjana industri berat, kilang elektronik dan sektor pelancongan di Kedah dan Pulau Pinang — menarik lebih RM32 bilion nilai pelaburan untuk Bandar Teknologi Tinggi Kulim dan menghasilkan lebih 30 ribu pekerjaan berpendapatan tinggi.

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