LETTERS: ALL major international environmental treaties espouse the Precautionary Principle (German, Vorsorgeprinzip) of “first, do no harm”. This is necessary to protect present and future generations from risks and harmful impacts arising from irresponsible institutional decision-making.
In Malaysia, the National Physical Plan (2010) contains policy statements forbidding coastal land reclamation for purposes other than the development of ports of national importance.
The single most ambitious reclamation project is the 1,800ha Penang South Reclamation (PSR), calculated to generate 3.2 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, according to the “18 nasihat” issued by the National Physical Planning Council.
The carbon emissions generated annually by PSR will require 147 million trees to offset it (based on one mature tree sequestering 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year). These figures are alarming.
The state government insists on going ahead with the project even though it will disrupt the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen.
The resulting pollution threatens to jeopardise the “golden triangle” of brackish water aquaculture producing half of Peninsular Malaysia’s supply: Sungai Udang in Penang, Tanjung Piandang and Kuala Kurau, as well as the mangrove areas of Kuala Gula and Kuala Sepetang, all in Perak.
The state government should revisit the impact of ongoing and past reclamation projects to learn about the impact of the massive Seri Tanjung Pinang 2 (STP2).
Despite precautions, the marine water quality in the north of Penang island has deteriorated.
Fishermen in Tanjung Tokong and Bagan Ajam report that their fish catch has dropped as much as 50 per cent to 70 per cent compared with before STP2.
The seas around Tanjung Tokong and Gurney Drive should be cleaned up to allow fish populations to recover to restore the livelihoods of fishermen.
If rehabilitation efforts cannot be undertaken successfully, the only responsible thing for the Penang government to do would be to cancel all future reclamation projects.
In a letter on June 25, 2019, the Department of Environment director-general advised the state government that the Penang South Reclamation will “cause permanent and residual impacts on mudflat ecosystems, fishing grounds, turtle landing areas, and some coral reefs in Pulau Rimau… This permanent destruction will have a significant negative impact on fisheries resources, fisheries and the security of national food supply”.
The advice was ironically incorporated into the letter of approval for the PSR Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, signed, incidentally, by the director-general on his last day of work, before retirement.
On July 16, the agriculture
and agro-based industry minister said in Parliament that the PSR project would affect 4,909 fishermen and 511 marine aquaculture operators.
He recommended mitigation measures to be implemented by the state government “without fail”, such as gazetting the strip from Pulau Betong to Telok Bahang as a conservation zone and the Middle Bank as a fisheries-protected area.
Have these steps been taken?
He also required studies to be conducted on the impact of noise pollution on fish as well as on prawn migration over a one-year cycle, and then to modify the island design to allow for unimpeded prawn migration.
All these are recorded in the Hansard, but one wonders if these studies are under way?
The minister, who has repeatedly emphasised the need to reduce food imports, said: “In principle, it is the responsibility of the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry to protect the marine resources and welfare of the fishermen.”
He should therefore instruct his ministry and the Malaysian Fisheries Development Authority to follow this policy.
PSR’s EIA report presented the project timeline starting with the reclamation of Island B, but several weeks later, a Bloomberg advertisement (Bloomberg, Dec 6) showed that Island A will proceed first.
This indicates that PSR might lack the detailed financial or physical planning conditions to make it “future-proof”.
The additional 400,000 population projected for the three new islands will stretch Penang’s resources.
The 800,000 people on water-stressed Penang island will have to compete for water.
How will the additional water supply be secured? Will additional sewerage and landfill facilities be required and where will they be located?
The Penang government has announced that it is in a hurry to sign the Project Delivery Partner agreement with SRS Consortium for the implementation of the Penang Transport Master Plan and the PSR project, just after Chinese New Year.
Therefore, it is our duty to remind it to heed environmental warnings and to slam the brakes.
Apparently, the Penang government’s letter of offer to the developers stipulates that SRS Consortium is required to obtain approvals for various projects.
The DoE approved the EIA for PSR on June 25.
However, the good fishermen of Penang have filed an appeal against the decision, under Section 35 (1) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974.
Before the appeal is heard and the decision obtained, the Penang government should respect the legal process and not start the reclamation project.
KHOO SALMA NASUTION
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times