Penang Forum held a press conference this morning to launch the Penang Hills Watch initiative.
Penang’s hills: our natural heritage under threat
Penang’s hills are the last remaining areas on the island to have lush forests. From forestry records only 7.4 per cent of Penang state is forested land, and only 6 per cent is protected forest.
The forested hills are Penang’s natural heritage. They function as water catchments to provide water supply, prevent soil erosion and landslides, are gene banks for a rich diversity of plant and animal species, and are the green lungs for nature appreciation and outdoor recreation.
These hills are fragile and easily degraded when disrupted by human activities. Housing development and hill farming activities are expanding into sloping and hilly land. Members of the public and the press are increasingly voicing concern over hill-clearing activities that are damaging to the environment.
Penang Forum (PF), a coalition of Penan–based NGOs and individuals, has been receiving reports from citizens at large about hill clearing activities through social media and personal contacts.
PF member Dr Kam Suan Pheng said the idea emerged that it would be useful to collate and map such information to provide a comprehensive picture of the scale and extent of such activities.
The Penang Hills Watch Initiative
Penang Hills Watch (PHW) is Penang Forum’s response to this idea. It is a citizens-oriented initiative to provide an information platform for keeping watch on activities affecting the hills of Penang. The main objectives of the PHW initiative are to:
- involve the public in reporting hill clearing activities in Penang;
- enhance public awareness about hill clearing issues and impacts; and
- foster civil society participation in information sharing and exchange with government agencies relating to hill clearing issues.
To achieve these objectives, PHW has established and will maintain an online repository of mapped information on hill-clearing activities collected through crowd-sourcing from the public as well as official records obtained from relevant government agencies.
PHW solicits a broad constituency of concerned members of the public – including hikers, NGOs, residents’ associations and the press – to report observations on hill clearing activities.
Such information is systematically documented and made publicly accessible to make people aware about hill-clearing issues and impacts, and for galvanising action to safeguard what is remaining of the forested hills of Penang for future generations.
To this end, PHW will engage with and seek assistance from relevant government departments and municipal councils in this initiative as it is in line with the state’s policy for a greener Penang.
According to PF member Rexy Prakash Chacko, making a report on observed hill clearing activities involves a few simple steps using the smart phone or the social media.
Coming across a hill clearing activity that is potentially of concern, the observer can take a photo using a smart phone and send it via WhatsApp, with a brief written description, to the PHW hotline at +60 11 51274277.
With the location setting turned on, the observer also sends the GPS coordinates of the affected site.
Alternatively, the observer can send the same information via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through Facebook (@PenangHillsWatch).
Received reports shall be verified by PHW volunteers and will then be entered into the online repository which can be viewed in a mapped form at https://hillclearinginpenang.ushahidi.io/views/map. (It is recommended to use Google Chrome as the internet browser while viewing this map.)
The Penang Hills Watch page contains four categories of information. They comprise:
citizens’ observations on:
- hill-clearing for building and infrastructure development
- hill-clearing for farming activities
available official records of the municipal council(s) on:
- illegal hill clearing activities
- approved development projects on gazetted hill land (land above 250 feet (76m) or with slopes steeper than 25 degrees.
A downloadable brochure and instruction videos on how to submit ground observation reports and how to use the PHW online page to view the mapped information are available from the Penang Forum website. Alternatively the instruction videos can be viewed at the Penang Hills Watch Youtube channel.
PHW contacts and links:
Whatsapp hotline: +6011-51274277 (please send photo with brief description and GPS coordinates)
Web repository: https://hillclearinginpenang.ushahidi.io/views/map
Instructions: Penang Forum website and Youtube.