Sabah conservationists caution against issuing mining licences

KOTA KINABALU: A group of Sabah conservationists has come out strongly against the issuance of mining licences for the extraction of natural resources in the state.

The group, comprising 12 NGOs, called on the state government to stay out of mining as its past experience from the Mamut copper mine had left irreparable damage to the state's biodiversity.

The group also called on Mineral and Geoscience Department director-general Effendi Abdullah Azizi to reconsider his suggestion to the state government to issue more mining licences to encourage extraction of natural resources in Sabah.

The group, in a joint statement Wednesday (June 12), said it was "unwise" for Sabah to move forward with the suggestion to mine natural resources in Sabah.

The group comprised the Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA), WWF Malaysia, Malaysian Nature Society Sabah, PACOS Trust, Sabah Environmental Trust, Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Borneo Futures/HUTAN, Danau Girang Field Centre, Forever Sabah and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

The group said that the Mamut copper mine on the foothills of Mount Kinabalu in Ranau remains a "living testimony" to the devastation that mining caused to Sabah's biodiversity as well as its people, in particular, residents living in the area.

"Severe rains often led to mine waste contaminating local water sources," they said citing the example of 541ha of planted rice paddy that were destroyed in 1977 while the discharges have also polluted several rivers and their fish stocks and even Ranau's water intake.

Even though Mamut mine was closed in 1999, the group claimed that the Mamut copper mine, remains a ticking time-bomb especially since the walls of the pit currently hold 20.6 million cubic metres of water containing Acid Mine Drainage (AMD).

The walls were weakened by the 2015 earthquake, the NGOs said, adding that some 600,000 tonnes of copper, 45 tonnes of gold and 294 tonnes of silver were extracted from the site in a joint venture with a Japanese company in the 1970s.

"Our environment continue to pay the price. The cost to contain the problem was estimated at RM100mil in 2015 by geologist Professor Felix Tongkul.

"As of now, it remains unclear whether the government has the resources to rectify the problem as well as to avoid similar risks in the future," they said.

The group was also concerned about "hints" of possible coal mining in the Maliau Basin, Sabah's untouched basin known as the Lost World internationally, and reminded the state that coal was a dirty fuel and was no longer a profitable venture.

"The state government is committed to nominating the Danum-Maliau-Imbak (DaMaI) Rainforest Complex as a World Heritage Site.

"This area is one of the richest and most important lowland rainforests in South-East Asia and is also a vital tourist attraction.

"Destroying this area for profit will undo Sabah's reputation as a world-renowned eco-tourism destination and affect its ever-growing tourist economy," they said, urging the state government to rule out coal mining in Maliau.

The group appealed for transparency and due diligence in any policy developments around mining.

"Only through engaging with the public can we find truly sustainable development path for Sabah that will bring lasting benefits and quality of life for our families and our state," the group said in the statement.


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