Sunday, August 10, 2014

Protect Selangor’s precious water catchment forests

We, the Coalition for the Protection of the Selangor State Park*, refer to the recent article in the Sunday Star (3rd August, 2014) on the need to protect water catchment areas  and the interview with the Director General of Peninsular Malaysia Forestry Department, Datuk Dr. Abdul Rahman Abdul Rahim.

We welcome the views of Datuk Dr. Abdul Rahman on the proposed East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE) which is set to traverse water catchment forests in Selangor. We believe highways should not be at the expense of forests. We concur with his opinion that public transportation should be improved instead of building highways and the loss of degazetting forests is too great.
It is ironic that even protected forest reserves are threatened with destruction. A case in point is the Ampang and Ulu Gombak water catchment forests, parts of which are proposed to make way for the EKVE. In 1999, the forests were reclassified as a water catchment forest, a category of protection forest under the National Forestry Act 1984. Due to the importance of the area, the forests were also gazetted as part of the Selangor State Park in 2007. Despite it being an environmentally sensitive area, decision makers allowed the proposal for the EKVE to go ahead in the area. The Federal government allowed the proposed developer to provide an alignment that would cut through the forests. Even prior to the preparation of a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA), the Selangor state government gave conditional approval for the alignment to traverse the forests.
Despite public objections in 2010, the proposed alignment through the forests was included in the Ampang, Selayang and Kajang Local Plans. Regardless of the many concerns raised on potential impacts on water catchment forests, rivers and streams, the DEIA was approved in 2013. This year, thousands of members of the public signed on to petitions to protest the proposed degazettement of parts of the forest reserves and urge the Federal and State governments to protect the Selangor State Park. We are left wondering if despite this, the EKVE will still proceed.
In a recent response to a question raised in the parliament regarding the EKVE, the Works Minister Datuk Fadhillah Yusof responded that the DEIA for the proposed project is approved and that the report has considered all the impacts. He said his ministry will work with local authorities to ensure the proposed project has minimum impact.
The DEIA will prescribe, in theory, measures to minimise the potential impacts. At this point, the question is neither about whether the DEIA has been approved nor if the impacts will be minimised. The question is whether a highway should be constructed at the expense of clearing and exposing our precious catchment forests to adverse impacts. The current water crisis in Klang Valley threatens to deteriorate further to a possible emergency situation. Clearing catchment forests will only compound an already dire situation. In our opinion it is not a risk worth taking.
It is still not too late to save the catchment forests. Irrespective of whether the DEIA is approved, the state government has the power, as the custodian of the state’s forests, to reject the proposed alignment cutting through the forests. The question is whether the state government will exert it’s authority in this matter and keep the promise made in the Pakatan Rakyat Selangor’s 13th General Elections Manifesto - to rehabilitate and conserve the states forests as major water catchment and green lungs.
Providing protection status to catchment forests and then degazetting parts of it to make way for a highway is meaningless. The EKVE may temporarily relieve the traffic problem for some, but ensuring Selangor’s water catchment forests are left intact will benefit thousands of residents in the Klang Valley. We strongly believe that allowing the EKVE to cut through the forests is definitely not in the public’s interest. The onus is on both the Federal and Selangor state governments to ensure the EKVE does not cut through the water catchment forests and the Selangor State Park. We call on both the Federal and state governments to ensure that our precious water resources are left intact.

* Members of the coalition are:   Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Save Our Sungai Selangor (S.O.S. Selangor), Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES), and the World Wide Fund for Nature – Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia).