Kelantan deforestation: State government must take responsibility

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Kelantan’s rich biodiversity is being destroyed and the poor bear the brunt of devastating floods caused by the wanton destruction of watershed areas due to state-sanctioned logging, poor planning and weak control of development - File photograph: Center for Orang Asli Concerns

Massive indiscriminate felling of trees seems to be the order of the day, with little replanting, and this has been going on for a long while, observes Rani Rasiah.

Photograph: Center for Orang Asli Concerns
Photograph: Center for Orang Asli Concerns

A drive from Cameron Highlands through Lojing to Gua Musang lays bare the Pas-led Kelantan state government’s incredible disregard and lack of concern for the natural environment. Virtually the entire mountain range has been brutally stripped bare of its forest cover and appears as a huge helpless creature wounded and bleeding.

Early into Kelantan state, the Lojing stretch of hills are all over plastered with plastic greenhouses for farming right up to the very top of the hills.

As you leave Lojing, the scene changes. Massive logging has depleted the forest and only here and there, there has been some replanting with oil palm on terraces. In many places, exploited and then abandoned hill slopes appear unevenly patchy, as vegetation attempts to cover the red soil. Yet elsewhere, entire hills appear shaven completely bald leaving exposed red soggy hills waiting to slide down in the next downpour.

It is not clear what the Pas state government’s policy is towards forests and hill slope development. But from what is there for all to see, massive indiscriminate felling of trees seems to be the order of the day, with little replanting, and this has been going on for a long while.

It appears as if there are no laws requiring logging companies to log responsibly by cutting only mature trees and do compulsory replanting. Either that or there is no proper enforcement.

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The Kelantan people have already suffered the bitter consequence of the government’s irresponsible hill-slope development during the December 2014 floods when rivers laden with soil overflowed and inundated entire towns.

As experts say, the rainfall was unprecedented but hill-slope development worsened the flooding. A more environment-friendly and humble approach to the majestic hills could have helped mitigate the floods.

Global warming with its attendant extreme weather events is a reality governments cannot afford to ignore. The Kelantan government should take immediate steps to:

  • freeze all larg- scale hill-side development
  • review logging in the state and require loggers to cut only mature trees and carry out replanting
  • respect Orang Asli land rights and stop appropriating their native customary land. Grant them legal rights over their land.
  • stabilise the exposed and vulnerable slopes through a reforestation programme.
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