IT has been just over two weeks since Malaysia voted for a change, for a new government. There are promises of reform, a clean-up, a transformation to make Malaysia better. I just hope that environmental issues will not be excluded.
There is no Environment Ministry in Pakatan Harapan’s core Cabinet.
However, I am not too concerned for now. The new government has lots to do, and there are other pressing matters that they have to address first.
At this juncture, it is permissible to let the environment take a back seat.
But we cannot afford to ignore the environment for long.
We need to have an Environment Ministry that will address conservation and sustainability matters. If anything, past events that have had an impact on the environment have underscored the urgent need to address these issues.
Take bauxite mining in Kuantan, for example, that saw the rivers and sea turning red from 2015 to 2016. The mining activities got so out of hand that it spawned a full-blown ecological disaster.
Bauxite literally painted the town red, and with the rock’s aluminium content, who knows what long-term impact it has caused?
Malaysia is also seen as a hub for the illegal trade of wildlife and timber. In the past few years, there has been a substantial increase in seizures of ivory, pangolin scales and testudines (turtles, tortoises and terrapins) in Malaysia.
It has been reported that nearly 20% of ivory seized worldwide from 2003 to 2014 was on its way to or from Malaysia, or was in the country itself. This indicates that Malaysia is a popular transit point for such contraband, and this is an issue that has to be addressed.
Even our own wildlife is under threat. There have been reports of several deaths of endangered species in the past, notably, Malayan tapirs, sun bears and Bornean pygmy elephants.
These animals are under threat from habitat loss, poaching and ending up as roadkill.
Human-animal conflict is also another problem, and several elephants have been killed in the past for wandering into human territory.
Several animals are also critically endangered, such as our Sumatran rhinoceros, Malayan tiger, anteater and banteng (a species of wild cattle). If we don’t do anything about it, they may slide into extinction.
These are just a handful of environmental problems that are plaguing our country, and these problems are not going to go away by themselves.
Unfortunately, the environment has had less prominence in the Federal budget in the past few years. So I hope that the new government will allocate more funds to tackle Malaysia’s environmental issues.
Not only do we need funds to start implementing conservation plans, we need the money to have more officers on the ground to be our eyes and ears.
We need to have more protected areas as safe havens for our species, and these reserves should not be encroached by highways or other development projects.
Malaysia is a beautiful country rich in biodiversity, and we need to do more to protect it.
I don’t want a modern concrete jungle, I want a lush green one.
I don’t want to simply read about our Malayan tiger, I want to see it roaming in its natural habitat.
If we don’t act now, all these things we love, and maybe take for granted, will one day be lost.
We need a ministry that will enact appropriate laws to protect our environment and have personnel to properly enforce these laws.
I also hope that the ministry would consider introducing environmental awareness and civic consciousness in schools.
We need youths to be interested in the environment and learn how they can play their part in protecting it. Simple things like picking up rubbish, recycling, and caring for our wildlife will go a long way.
I hope there will also be healthy engagement among the government, businesses and civil society, so that all stakeholders can work together to create a better and greener Malaysia.
More needs to be done to protect wildlife and the environment that we have now. It is imperative that we act now before it is too late.
Here’s hoping for a greener and cleaner Malaysia!
Online reporter Victoria Brown’s Behind The Cage tackles the pressing issues of animal rights and environmental awareness.