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Tuesday November 5, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday November 5, 2013 MYT 2:16:55 PM
CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Authorities must act now to halt the destruction of Cameron Highlands or pay a deadly price, warned environmentalists.
Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (REACH) president R. Ramakrishnan said that decades of unsustainable practices had left its residents in mortal danger of landslides or flash floods due to massive soil erosion.
These included land clearing done on steep slopes and vegetables planted on road and river reserves as well as the dumping of rubbish in streams, he added.
“If nothing is done, a huge disaster is going to happen one day and many people will die.
“Is that what is needed for action to be taken? Who will be blamed then?” he said.
His frustration is understandable: REACH has been highlighting these issues for 13 years.
Ramakrishnan cited corruption as the main reason for unstoppable land clearing while farmers’ greed was the second factor.
He was surprised that district officer Datuk Ahmad Daud regarded the situation as being under control.
He noted that Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob had conceded that the problem could only be solved if farmers stopped thinking solely of profits.
“The farmers are opportunists. If no serious action is taken against them, they will continue what they are doing,” Ramakrishnan said.
Over the years, he said REACH had made many reports on the situation and sent letters to the district officer, Mentri Besar and the MP.
“We never received a reply. It seems like the authorities only pay lip service every time a media report is published,” he said.
The Star highlighted land clearing on a staggering scale several times this year, with the authorities promising action each time.
Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamad said that enforcement activities seemed to be “nearly nil”.
He said the Bertam Valley floods on Oct 23 would not have happened if enforcement had been consistent.
He, too, cited corruption as a talking point among Cameron Highlands residents.
“They make snide remarks about it and are very pessimistic about the whole situation.
“The most common comment is ‘things will never change’,” he said.
Dr Maketab said that if the district office had been strict about demolishing buildings encroaching into the Sungai Bertam river reserve, the impact of the floods would have been less.
Similarly, he said the dam reservoir, Lake Ringlet, would not be undergoing this degree of sedimentation if there was strict enforcement against land clearing.
He said the Mentri Besar and the district officer were the two most powerful individuals needed to solve the problem.
“If they work together in enforcing the regulations, the whole problem in Cameron Highlands can be solved in less than a year,” he said.
He suggested that a Royal Commission should be considered to give an unbiased report of the situation while the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission should be involved as corruption was a factor.
Looking forward, Dr Maketab said Cameron Highlands should be gazetted as a tourist destination instead of just as an agricultural destination.
“Only then will Tourism Malaysia have justification for tourism planning which might, or might not be in conflict with agriculture.
“Its ideas must also be considered by the state and local authorities,” he said.
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Environment, cameron highlands
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