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Clearing mangrove swamps and forest worsen floods

Press Statement
by Thing Siew Shuen


(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Half of our country is affected by the flood in the year end of 2007. Last year, our government had spent RM1billion on flood aid. This year, how much is the country going to spend to recover the loss of the extensive damages? To date, the flood has claimed at least 29 lives. The local paper finally came out with an alarming sentence in a front page story: Mother Nature is fighting back (The Star, 20 December).

Our Prime Minister is right to say that the Malaysians must consider the effects of climate change which might bring about heavier rainfall. It is also true that we really need to review all existing development plans and to come out with a long-term measure to overcome the perennial problem of flooding.

Unplanned development is the main cause of the serious environment degradation and it always exacerbates the consequences of the natural disaster. If we blame climate change today, we also need to look at what we have done in facing the challenges of climate change.

Unfortunately, in the Sungai Pulai Estuary, we are going to witness the destruction of 2,255 acres of pristine mangrove forest at Sungai Pulai, equivalent to 913 soccer fields. Instead of preserving our natural flood barriers, the government and developers are working hand in hand to clear out the gift from the Mother Nature, to give way to petrochemical and maritime industries.

Taking example of Sungai Johor, where heavy development and loss of mangroves are significant, its water retention capacity has been greatly reduced, which probably worsen the flooding in Kota Tinggi. To prevent similar catastrophe at Sungai Pulai which might affect Pontian and Gelang Patah districts, we should ask ourselves whether such mega development will exceed the carrying capacity of the river. Is it worth the short term economic gains or paying the price for environmental cause, human lives and properties loss in the long run?

Apart from that, the government must admit that this natural disaster was exacerbated by massive environmental and ecosystem destruction as a result of years of mismanagement of natural resources, such as forest. In recent years, large scale deforestation through illegal logging, land conversion for oil palm plantation and land real estate development has destroyed hundreds of thousands acres of rainforest that functions like a “sponge” and retention pond in preventing or alleviating flooding. Let us not to blind our eyes and replace our priceless natural assets with cash crops which benefit only a few. It is paramount for the government to recognize and appreciate the merits and advantages of our natural heritage.

Our national leaders and government officials should take environmental scientific warnings on sea-level rising seriously. The pursuit of economic growth should not be at the expense of the mangrove areas which is so crucial to prevent coastal erosion and provide protection from strong winds and waves to 11,000 people living in 38 villages.

The development paradigm which puts profit and economic growth, as well as GDP or GNP indicators, as priorities has contributed direct or indirectly to environmental degradation and health risk. If we calculate these environmental externalities into our economic cost, we would have suffered economic loss.

Our decision makers should show their political will to halt any green light for developers to destroy our mangrove and forest areas unrestrained and uncontrolled, they must make a strong stand and transcend above political influence.


*Thing Siew Shuen, Environmental Officer to DAP Secretary-General

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