At the talk on Sustainable Urbanisation – Myth or Reality? – part of the Chevening talk series, jointly organised with Penang Forum in George Town – concerns from the floor centred mainly on a couple of key issues: over-development, land reclamation and siltation.
About 70 people turned up for the talk, many of them uneasy with the direction of ‘development’ in Penang, which they felt was not sustainable. Folks from the floor peppered the panellists with questions, clearly concerned about what they felt was over-development. They spoke about tower blocks looking half empty. They questioned the need for all that land reclamation. A couple more worried about the siltation around the Tanjong Tokong area and near the Queensbay area. Is this the kind of Progress we want?
Later someone in the audience contacted me and said I should write about ‘Environmental Impact Accountability‘ (rather than the usual Environmental Impact Assessment). What happens when an EIA report turns out to be so wrong and the environmental consequences prove catastrophic? Who will be held accountable? Who bears the consequences? The project proponents? The state authorities? The federal Department of Environment? The EIA consultants?
And who bears the cost of dealing with siltation – ie the cost of dredging? Will public money be used – after a certain ‘warranty period’ – to pay for expensive dredging costs?
Yacht owners are complaining that entry is almost impossible in the Straits Quay marina area during low tide. Similarly, others have complained about siltation around the Queensbay area.
Fisher folk have also complained about the dwindling catch of fish as a result of siltation, not only in the immediate surrounding area of controversial projects, but further away even on the mainland.
You might think yacht owners are a minority. Perhaps consider them as canaries in the coal mine (coal miners once used to bring along canaries to the mines. If the canaries died, it would provide the miners an early warning of dangerous gases before it was too late) – an early warning signal. What happens if the siltation results in large cruise ships finding it more and more difficult to navigate the northern channel or the port getting clogged up? What happens if the fishing catch dwindles even further?
If all this siltation is the result of a specific project(s), who will be held accountable for approving it/them and giving the environmental green light? Where does the (Environmental Impact) Accountability lie?