The RM9bn six-lane highway which will tunnel through 10km of the hills of Penang are “clearly incompatible” with plans to get Unesco to list the hill as a protected biosphere, a former senior Unesco advisor has said.
“The projects are clearly incompatible with UNESCO MAB [Man and the Biosphere] listing. And in fact, seemed purposely designed to undermine and scuttle this conservation initiative,” said Richard Engelhardt, a former Unesco regional advisor for culture and heritage conservation in the Asia-Pacific region from 1994 to 2008. Engelhardt had also served as head of the Unesco office in Cambodia where he was involved in an international campaign to safeguard Angkor Wat.
Unesco’s man and the biosphere (MAB) programme is an “intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments”.
According to the Unesco website, “MAB combines the natural and social sciences, economics and education to improve human livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits, and to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate, and environmentally sustainable.”
The Pan Island Link highway, proposed by a well connected major contractor and two Penang-based property developers, has come under heavy fire by environmental groups, residents associations and prominent Penang-based civil society groups while those in schools, homes and offices near the highway are clearly worried. Visitors to two popular parks – the Youth Park and the Sungai Ara Linear Park – have also expressed alarm that the highway will be passing through these green lungs.
But the state government is adamant about pressing ahead with the project, which also involves massive land reclamation in southern Penang Island.
“Hard to imagine how this can be compatible with the UNESCO Man and Biosphere protected status currently under application. In fact, this seems more like a purposeful strategy by developers to once again undermine the protection of Penang’s public assets for their private profit,” added Englehardt, in a response to the environmental impact assessment for the controversial mega project.
The big question is, why is the Penang state government going along with what are clearly contractor and developer-driven plans that harm the the ecology of Penang and are incompatible with the state government’s own aspiration to create a Penang Hill biosphere?