Aliran supports the growing clamour to cancel the 4,500-acre Penang South Reclamation project.
Over the last week, civil society groups and others have come out to back Nurul Izzah Anwar’s commentary calling for the cancellation of the project. She had criticised the need for this controversial project, especially amid a pandemic and an uncertain economic outlook.
The Permatang Pauh MP noted that the environmental impact assessment observed that the project would cause permanent environmental loss: “Permanent destruction and residual impacts will be suffered by the mudflat ecosystem, fishing grounds, turtle landings, and some of the coral reefs on Pulau Rimau. This permanent destruction will have a significant negative impact on fisheries resources, fishermen and the security of the country’s food supply.”
The impact on the food security of the country alone should be sufficient grounds to cancel the project.
The damage caused by the reclamation and the sand mining will also cause “irreversible and irrecoverable damage” to the livelihoods of over 6,000 fisherfolk, not just in Penang, but also beyond.
As NGOs and others have noted, Nurul Izzah said the focus on the reclamation plan has deviated substantially from the original Penang transport masterplan. While she and her party [PKR] colleagues initially supported the push for better public transport, they “began to develop doubts when the PTMP evolved to include mega-highways across the hills and rivers, LRT, monorails, skycab and land reclamation”.
The state government, citing a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, is now arguing that the reclaimed land – to be sold to property developers – will yield economic benefits for the state in the long run: RM70bn in foreign direct investments creating more than 300,000 jobs over 30 years.
But it is not clear if this study was conducted before or after the pandemic began and how these figures were arrived at. The Covid pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy, which is already plagued by severe wealth and income inequalities. The economic outlook now is so uncertain that it is hard to predict even three years ahead, let alone three decades.
Instead of using industrialisation as a pretext for land reclamation, the state government should explore sustainable development alternatives on mainland Penang. It could also create thousands of new jobs by opting for a state-wide transport system that promotes sustainable mobility eg buses, water taxis, ferries and trackless trams – and the construction and maintenance infrastructure to support them.
Given the realities of climate change, the state government should be doing all it can to preserve the ecosystem, include marine biodiversity, instead of eroding food security in pursuit of unsustainable development. It should also respect the fishing community’s legal challenge against the approval of the environmental impact assessment. This challenge, due to be heard soon, is provided for under the Environmental Quality Act 1974.
The call to cancel this unsustainable project (#PenangTolakTambak) is growing louder by the day with politicians, academics and a string of civil society groups expressing concern. An online petition against the project has collected 117,000 signatures so far. Another online petition to save the olive ridley turtles and the livelihoods of the fishermen that would be affected by the reclamation has bagged 246,000 signatures.
It is time to scrap this mega-reclamation project for good and explore more sustainable alternatives to uphold food security and sustainable mobility in a post-Covid world.
6 June 2021