Environmental governance at risk

By NST EDITORIAL - 8 December 2016 @ 2:01 PM

THE environmental impact assessment (EIA), whose ideas go back to the United Nations Declaration on the Human Environment at the Stockholm Conference in 1972, is critical in ensuring sustainable development.

More than 170 countries declared their commitment to strike a balance between environmental concerns and economic needs at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the EIA was recognised as one of the tools to achieve this.

Malaysia is one of the earliest countries that embraced the EIA concept. Following in the footsteps of various developed countries, Malaysia adapted the EIA practice into local legal regimes in 1974.

The impending construction of the RM12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port in the first quarter of next year clearly shows the lack of respect the developers in question have for the EIA process.

They have blatantly ignored the objections of a team of experts, which has declared the port project an environmental hazard.

The team, which had produced a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) report on the proposed airport, was adamant that the Department of Environment did not approve the project.

The main issue was the location. The facility would be built on reclaimed land, which would form an island right at the mouth of Sungai Linggi.

The concern is that this may disrupt the hydrodynamics and cause floods, which would affect towns and people upstream.

The consensus was the choice of site was inappropriate as it would disrupt the flow of water from the river, marine life and livelihood of the people.

The start of the project, as announced by owners TAG Marine Sdn Bhd on Nov 28, came as a shock to those involved in the DEIA report. The proposed port would be an expansion of the Kuala Linggi port, which opened in 2001.

Another valid complaint is the excessive land reclamation exercise along Malacca’s 70km-long coastline.

Along the coast of Malacca, once popular stretches of beaches in Klebang have disappeared, jeopardising the future of fishermen. Land reclamation has presented many countries with available land to develop, without the need to demolish existing infrastructure or relocate people from their homes.

But taking land from the sea also raises huge problems such as the decimation of entire coastal areas, wiping out their native fish and aquatic plant populations as a result of the changes that land reclamation can trigger.

Experts talk about serious dangers such as irreversible environmental damage, coastal erosion, subsidence, damage to fishery resources and, most of all, those sites are usually vulnerable to sea level rise.

As Malacca is economically dependent on tourism, it is vital to keep its environment and aquatic life as pristine as possible.

Is Malaysia’s environmental governance going through a crisis? If people chose not to see it before, they should now, following this latest episode.

Ignoring EIA reports is the first step towards killing the EIA process in Malaysia. It is abundantly clear that the priority of these particular developers is not the protection of the environment.

The “anti-environment” stance of such developers will lead to a huge crisis in environmental governance in Malaysia.

We will see the impact of their foolishness in the form of irreparable damage to ecology and an immense economic burden on the people of Malaysia.

As Malacca is economically dependent on tourism, it is vital to keep its environment and aquatic life as pristine as possible. Pix by RASUL AZLI SAMAD.