Environmental activist Nizam stressing a point during a press conference
Grassroots groups in Kedah have expressed alarm at several projects that they say are threatening the environment in the state. They have released a Kedah People’s Declaration listing several projects they say are degrading the environment. In recent days, even the Penang government has expressed concern that water catchment areas in Kedah could be affected.
While the Kedah state government may need to raise funds to compensate for a slowing down of federal funding for the opposition-ruled state, it should not resort to undertaking projects that could compromise the environment.
Several groups have criticised a string of projects and proposals including the Kedah Hydrocarbon Hub, a granite quarry in the Gunung Jerai water catchment area and permanent forest reserve, and logging near water catchment forests.
They are worried about the adverse health implications of the Hydrocarbon Hub for surrounding communties and the possibility of beach erosion.
They also complain that quarry work has caused sedimentation in the river in Kg Singkir and mud floods in surrounding areas while the blasting at the quarry has disrupted the tranquility of neighbouring kampongs.
Logging near water catchment areas could jeopardise sources of irrigation and water supply.
As for agriculture, they want the state government to halt plans to introduce genetically modified crops, which relies heavily on pesticides, and instead focus on organic farming, which could be a model for other states to emulate.
The plight of coastal fisherfolk was also raised. They want the state to protect their interests – not just the interests of those involved in deep sea fishing or aquaculture farms. They also want the state to preserve mangrove forests – which are a source of nourishment for coastal marine life – from encroachment by aquaculture farms cultivating tiger prawns.
Apart from this, they have expressed concern about sand mining and the Transeastern Highway, which they say has questionable benefit and would jeopardise forest reserves.
The People’s Declaration came about as a reaction to statements by the new Kedah state government on ZIPY (now known as Kedah Hydocarbon Hub) and the state’s interest in exploiting the natural resources (timber etc) in Kedah, says Nizam Mahshar, coordinator of Sahabat Alam Malaysia. “The new state government has obviously followed the same destructive legacy of the old BN government of approving and announcing projects prior to any proper consultation, consent or environmental or cost benefit assessment over viability of such projects.”
“Such steps, among others, are the main causes of … intense environmental degradation and social conflicts suffered by the common people in Kedah,” he noted, adding that these projects had in fact contributed to the downfall of the BN state government on 8 March 2008.
Here are some reactions from grassroots leaders:
The elected representative and existing exco members from PR had not shown any interest in fulfilling their election pledges – among others stopping the destructive quarry project in Singkir, Gunung Jerai and Sungai Ilir, Bandar Bharu. Phone calls made by the communities and NGOs to their elected representatives, who once hunted us for support and information, while they were in the opposition and during the elections, now remain unanswered.
Head, Kuari Singkir, Action Committee
The state government seems not to understand the relationship between the environment and our social welfare. Having a petrochemical hub, undertaking reclamation of the sea or carrying out continuous destruction of the mangrove forest – all this will affect fish stocks and “kill off” the fisherfolk. Plans to log the remaining forest in Kedah would mean the destruction of the last remaining water catchment forests and would in the end effect water sources for the paddy farming community in the rice bowl of Malaysia. These will worsen food security issues and the welfare of the farmers. They seem to be deaf and dumb towards these issues…
Che Ani Mat Zain
Head, Badan Bertindak Petani MADA
With all the policy statements made (that are not pro-environment) and with the state government’s lack of interest in addressing the current environmental problems in Kedah, the fate of the environment in Kedah will remain bleak. The sustainable development agenda remains marginalised even with a new state government or so called ‘new politics’ in place…
Aziz Bin Man
President, Muafakat Warga Desa, Negeri Kedah (RURAL CITIZENS)
PR governments must show more respect for the environment than the BN ever did. People expect a much higher standard of protection for the environment than previously. It cannot be business as usual. Development which destroys the environment or upsets the ecological balance is no development at all.