The environment minister’s call

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His ministry provide effective and farsighted leadership to promote environmental sustainability and climate change resilience, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

Concerned Malaysians predictably are keeping a watchful eye on new Environment Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, especially when on the first day of his job he was reported to have made a defence of logging activities in his home state of Kelantan, claiming that the state has an ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) certification that allows for such economic pursuits.

The questionable ISO claim aside, logging in Kelantan has left the Orang Asli in Gua Musang without their ancestral land as well as a forest reserve area vital to their livelihood. This situation is obviously disconcerting to environmentalists and social activists.

Equally important, an eye trained on the minister is necessary because over the years Malaysia has witnessed an increased breach of environmental standards, ranging from unbridled deforestation, destruction of catchment areas, and dumping of toxic waste in rivers to actions that have turned Malaysia into a dumping ground for the rubbish of certain foreign countries.

For the sceptics, Tuan Ibrahim’s religious background becomes a factor that doesn’t inspire confidence, leaving some wondering whether he would be able to handle issues that are temporal in nature.

However, he is quick to show the doubtful, if not cynical, members of the public that he is ready to learn the ropes – and be a force to be reckoned with.

On his maiden visit to the Department of Environment, Tuan Ibrahim declared that he would study in detail 40 environmental initiatives prioritised by the previous Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change.

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There are four main pillars supporting these initiatives: strengthened governance, economic growth; increased social inclusiveness and enhanced strategic collaboration.

Of the four, two – strengthening governance and increasing social inclusiveness – require our attention in the wake of what has happened in several states in the country, particularly when so-called development projects have not only caused environmental degradation but have also adversely affected the livelihoods and lifestyles of some groups of people.

In Perak, for instance, tension is heightened between the Semai tribe and contractors associated with the proposed mini-hydro dams near the Orang Asli settlement in Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng, as the former fear that their ancestral land would be encroached on. To rub salt into the wound, the community’s ancestral graveyard and crops have been destroyed.

In Selangor, a storm is brewing following the Selangor government’s decision to flout its own plan to protect the Kuala Langat north forest reserve.

Orang Asli, environmentalists and unhappy citizens are up in arms over the state’s proposal to degazette the 930ha forest (97% of the forest reserve) for mixed development.

For the Orang Asli, it is the familiar story of their ancestral land, livelihood and culture being disrupted, if not destroyed, by the encroachment of people whose activities could bring about irreversible environmental degradation.

Not only is the Selangor plan to denude the land of lush greenery, which is inimical to the interests and concerns of the Orang Asli in the area, it also disregards the contention of the environmentalists that the “environmentally sensitive area” serves as an important water catchment area for southern Selangor and is a store for atmospheric carbon, helping to reduce global warming.

READ MORE:  Don't resume logging in Ulu Muda permanent forest reserves in Kedah

Similarly, fisherfolk and environmentalists in Penang are protesting against the massive land reclamation to create three artificial islands in the Penang South Reclamation project, which they assert would give rise to the loss of fishing grounds and consequently, the livelihoods of the fishing community, leading to reduced food security.

Hence, it is useful to remind the environment minister – whom we assume is familiar with the Islamic concept of humans as the guardians of the earth – that there is a symbiotic relationship between men and women and nature.

In real terms, the clearing of forests should involve serious consultation between state governments and other stakeholders, especially the Orang Asli who treat the environment as part of their culture. This is, to be sure, inclusivity at its best.

Additionally, the Ministry of Environment must also provide effective and farsighted leadership that is informed by the notion of environmental sustainability and the dictates of climate change.

This is the environment minister’s call.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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