Grave environmental concerns as Penang ushers in 2019

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Khoo Salma Nasution points to issues of concern in Penang as it ushers in the New Year.

As we come to the end of 2018, we note that the Penang environment has gone through annus horribilis two years in a row. Two landslide tragedies took place within the space of one year, resulting in 20 precious lives lost.

A measly RM35,000 fine was imposed for 11 lives lost in the BSG Granito landslide. No one has yet been held accountable for the MBPP Bukit Kukus Paired Road landslide.

The floods of November 2017 were followed by a series of smaller floods, land slips and road slips this year. We are ill-prepared for another major climate event.

The draft Penang Structure Plan displayed this year (2018) is loosening hill development restrictions and showing us a vision of rapacious reclamation with an utter lack of concern for coastal environment, sustainable fisheries and Life Under Water.

The Peel Avenue land, which could have been used for public purpose, has been sold and heritage bungalows demolished. And just this week, the illegal clearing of a football-field size area of mangroves has been discovered.

A 10-km Pulau Betong to Telok Bahang road was announced recently, which will mean the destruction of large areas of mangrove.

In light of the recent tsunami tragedies in Indonesia, the present government’s continued disregard for mangrove tsunami barriers seem completely short-sighted. “Botak Hill” is still botak.
READ MORE: Away from public eye, chainsaw-wielding workers hack through Pulau Jerejak forest

Penang’s future is fraught with man-made environmental threats. The Pan-Island Link (PIL) will severely compromise and/or destroy the two most important parks on Penang island: Sungai Ara Linear Park and Youth Park.

READ MORE:  CAP says 'no' to new project delivery partner agreement with SRS Consortium

The trees along the entire stretch of Persiaran Kuari into Youth Park will likely be cut down for the feeder road. While we are busy planting small trees and saving some grass circles, there is no honest account of all the mature old-growth trees that will be sacrificed for the various components of the proposed Penang transport masterplan.

Penangites have seen the state’s unrealistic physical development policies that will put undue pressure on our natural environment. We have come to realise that we can no longer rely on politicians to help us with the proliferating environmental issues in the face of over-development, and the state’s lack of understanding on new strategies and new building codes needed to adapt to climate change.

Instead, we, the People of Penang, need to come together to save our state.

This year alone, petitions to save the hills of Penang, stop hill cutting for housing development, and reject damaging highways, have raised a total of almost 150,000 signatures.

They are:

  • Floods and landslide: Stop hill-cutting for housing development (almost 80,000 signatures)
  • Reject PIL/Zenith (20,000 signatures on online and hard copy)
  • Save Penang Hill (almost 45,000 signatures)

The proposed highways and expensive LRT would leave our future generations in debt. We want public funds to be spent on repairing our hills and preventing future flooding, so that Penangites will not become the victims of development.

We warn of the dangers of building 70km of new highway (Zenith and SRS Consortium), most of them through parks, established neighbourhoods and environmentally-sensitive areas.

READ MORE:  NGOs to Penang government: Don't sign agreement with SRS Consortium

Instead, we want a masterplan that will prioritise affordable public transport even if it means introducing traffic restrictions and congestion charges: moving people, not cars.

We call upon the people of Penang to wake up and demand development and transport strategies which are not destructive to our environment, and which will not fail our climate commitments or betray the Penang we leave to future generations.

Khoo Salma Nasution is a Penang Forum steering committee member.

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Christine Xavier-gordon
2 Jan 2019 9.23am

Grave is the right word because if you don’t take care of your environment you are digging your own grave.