1. What are the negative effects after cutting down all the trees?
Answer: Any large scale logging of Ulu Muda forest reserve would certainly bring about serious negative effects as follows:
(i) Pollute water resources and initially increase water quantity (due to less forest to retain the rain) but eventually, total water resources would be drastically reduced because of lack of water catchments to retain/trap the rain. These effects would not only affect Penang but also Kedah itself and Perlis.
(ii) Increased downstream flooding – without forest to retain rain (forest acts like a sponge soaking up between 30-70 % of rain, depending on various factors like season, soil type, etc). Again, these effects would not only affect Penang but also Kedah itself as Sg Muda is shared by both these states. Global warming is expected to increase rainfall in wet areas and thereby make flooding much worse. Without the forest, flooding will be many times worse. This means the fatalities and economic losses will increase any times.
(iii) Species will die and go extinct – Forests are the home or habitat of flora (plants) and fauna (animals). When we cut the trees and destroy the forest, we are destroying the homes of the plants and animals. Does the MB of Kedah want his home destroyed by others? Of course not! Related to this, biodiversiti will be severely affected. The Ulu Muda forests is home to elephants, tiger, tapir, as well as other endangered species of animals and flora. We may see many species going extinct.
(iv) Tourism will suffer – another serious negative effect of destroying the forest is the negative effect on tourism, particularly ecotourism. Currently, the Ulu Muda forest reserve is a pristine forest with lots of ecotourism attractions and potentials. The forest is visited by many ecotourists. The forest is our natural heritage. But if we destroy the forest, who would want to visit a logging area that has become more or less like a desert?
(v) Forests are Carbon Sinks – forests are carbon sinks in that the trees, other flora and soils store CO2 by absorbing it from the atmosphere. Hence, a country X that has a lot of forests can sell carbon credits to a developed country Y that has no forests but wants to develop more industries. When the Ulu Muda forests are gone, there will be localised warming of temperature which will add to global warming. Malaysia is always talking about its commitment to control global warming. Cutting forests is definitely not the way to go.
2. Any effects for the dam?
If the forests are logged far away from the dam, then the effects will be minimal. However, if the logging is close to the dams, it may increase soil erosion. Then it will pollute the dam and increase siltation (this will shorten the lifespan of the dam). Also, if no trees are remaining, then there is high potential for landslides. The beauty of the dam will be destroyed by logging.
3. Any effects on the water supply?
Logging the Ulu Muda forest reserve will definitely affect water supply negatively. Like I mention in my answer to Question 1 (i) above, logging will Pollute water resources and initially increase water quantity (due to less forest to retain the rain) but eventually, total water resources would be drastically reduced because of lack of water catchments to retain/trap the rain. These effects would not only affect Penang but also Kedah itself and Perlis. The Ulu Muda forest reserve is the single largest forest reserve which serves as a water catchment for the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia. It is the main water catchment that supplies all 3 states of Kedah, Perlis and Penang their much needed water supply. If the forest is logged, its water catchment will also be destroyed. That means there will be no forest to retain and trap rain water. No water catchment means “no water”.
Currently, all 3 states (Penang, Kedah and Perlis) depend on the Ulu Muda forest catchment for water supply, irrigation and perhaps even power. It is certainly one of the most important water catchments in north Peninsula Malaysia, if not the most important. The rest of Malaysia may not be dependent on this forest, but like I said before, it can contribute to localised and global warming which may also affect other states.
4. Is logging is the best solution for Kedah? Logging is only a quick way to make money, but it is only a short-term gain that is not sustainable (i.e. it cannot last forever). When the trees are gone, the forest will also be gone. Then the money will also be gone. It cannot last. For a tree to mature, it takes more than 100 years but cutting down one big tree that is 100 years old takes only a few minutes! Logging is not the best solution for Kedah. In my opinion, it is a very reckless and irresponsible solution. I say Irresponsible because the rakyat in all 3 states will suffer when there is no water. In Kedah, the padi farmers who are already the poorest will suffer the most if there is not enough water for irrigation. The industrialists in Kulim high-tech park, in Penang and other industrial areas in all 3 state s will also suffer. It is the worse solution for Kedah. When people suffer, they will remember it and will take action in the next election. Kedah government should think about long term and sustainable solutions.
5. Any suggestion for Kedah Government? What are the Solutions? (State Government, NGO, Federal Government)? My suggestions are as ollows: The Kedah Government should not be short-sighted by merely looking for short-term profits which will dry up once the forest is gone. It should look at the long term to consider what are the best options for sustainability of this forest (e.g. tourism and long-term water supply and irrigation). Yes, logging will bring in quick money. But is the profit worthwhile in comparison with the negative effects? (Do not forget that the effects are felt by all 3 states of Perlis, Kedah and Penang). Certainly, I don’t think logging a sustainable option. Moreover, is the Kedah Government fair to its thousands of farmers, not to mention it also has expanding industries in Kulim and many towns and settlements that also depend on the water from Sg Muda, even if it does not care about what happens in Perlis and Penang. Kedah cannot threaten Penang by saying it will go ahead with the logging. Both are PKR governments. Surely, there are better ways and means to communicate. I think the Penang and Perlis governments would be eager to talk and discuss. So, Kedah should approach both states in a friendly manner, not come out with guns blazing! Another option is to follow up with the Federal Government over the RM100 million a year compensation that was promised to Kedah for not logging this forest (This was revealed in some newspapers). Federal Government must pay Kedah if it has promised Kedah RM100 million per year not to log the forest.
6. What can the State and Federal Governments do? Kedah government should approach Penang and Perlis in a friendly manner for discussion about the water that they are receiving from the Sg Muda. Kedah Government should not threaten Penang and Perlis, or any other government for that matter. Kedah government should follow up with the Federal Government over the RM100 million a year compensation that was promised to Kedah for not logging this forest as a result of a cabinet decision to stop Kedah’s previous proposal to log the forest (This was revealed in some newspapers).
7. How about the situation in Penang irrespective of whether the logging goes ahead or not?
Penang government should now plan properly regarding its water supply. Since Penang has very little water resources, it must negotiate with Kedah and Perak to transfer water. There are some rivers in both Kedah and Perak that can transfer water to Penang. Penang has to pay of course. Penang must also look at other alternatives such as water recycling (make it mandatory for hotels and industries that use a lot of water to recycle), desalination (Singapore has done well on this. Penang can also do).
Most important of all, Penang must now educate all Penangites to use water wisely. Do not waste water in the home or in the office. The CM can set a good example in saving water by telling everyone how much water he uses per day. He can easily calculate by dividing total water use by number of days and number of people in his house. I am only using about 140 litres per day, but the average Penangite uses about 300 litres! This is very bad! If every Penangite saves 10 % of his water use, i.e. 30 litres per day, the total amount saved in penang (1.6 million population) is 48 million litres a day! This is equivalent to 17.5 billion litres per year. This is equivalent to the size of 1 Teluk Bahang Dam! Penang needs to go on a year-long campaign to save water. Make all penangites (including industry, businesses, hotels, agriculture etc) save water.
8. What can NGOs do?
NGOs like Water Watch Penang can certainly be involved in awareness raising regarding this issue in both Penang, Kedah and Perlis. However, our resources are very limited. At the moment we are talking to the press such as The Sun and Bernama (which just interviewed me via the phone). We will write our opinion in the press as well, both in English and Chinese newspapers to let the people know about the dangers of this catchment being logged.