WE refer to the recent announcement by the government on the renegotiated East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project. We welcome the news that the new alignment will no longer cut through the Main Range and any possible impacts to the Klang Quartz Ridge will be avoided.
We also welcome the fact that the nation will be saving RM21.5bil or more through the renegotiations. In his recent interview with The Star, Tun Daim Zainuddin, who led the renegotiation talks for the ECRL project, was quoted as saying that projects that were deferred or cancelled post-GE14 must be restarted as decided by the Cabinet, as long as the cost is lowered but with the same specifications, “Eminently engaging insights” (March 31).
Therefore, in reducing the cost of the ECRL project, we hope that the specifications to prevent or reduce its environmental impacts will not be compromised.
Specifications of the original ECRL project included incorporating tunnels and elevated tracks into the design to avoid or reduce forest fragmentation.
Based on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which was carried out in 2017 for the ECRL project and information from past dialogues with Malaysian Rail Link and consultants, we understand that apart from the tunnel through the Main Range, a total of 44 tunnels as well as 27 wildlife crossings would be needed at various stretches along the original alignment to prevent forest fragmentation, as the alignment cuts through various forest reserves.
As such, we hope the tunnels, elevated tracks and wildlife crossings will still be retained as part of the project specifications in areas where the alignment would still pass through forests.
This is to ensure wildlife movement is not impeded, prevent easy access into the forests by poachers and to safeguard the ecosystem services provided by these forests.
It needs to be noted that large mammals such as tigers, elephants, tapirs and sun bears are found in and near some of the forested areas which the ECRL and the spur lines will cut through.
Additionally, we note from recent reports in the media that the Department of Environment has not received an EIA for the new alignment.
We strongly call on the government to assess the environmental impacts of this new alignment and incorporate measures at the design stage to address the adverse aspects such as forest fragmentation.
We also strongly urge the government to hold dialogues with stakeholders, including environmental groups, to explain the changes to the project and obtain feedback.
We call on the government to ensure that sufficient budget is allocated to mitigate all environmental impacts and implement environmental and wildlife management and monitoring plans, which are also crucial components of the project.
Forming an independent monitoring committee would also help to provide a check and balance on the implementation of these plans.
Putting priority on solutions to prevent the environmental impacts, such as realigning the tracks to avoid forest loss and fragmentation, and putting in place effective mitigation measures where these negative impacts cannot be avoided would be an investment in our future.
Forests not only harbour wildlife, which are already dwindling due to poaching, forest loss and fragmentation, it also supports crucial ecosystem services. Sustainable development is about conserving environmentally sensitive areas and ensuring that safeguards are incorporated at the design stage of any project.
It is really heartening that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad stressed the need to balance physical development with the preservation of nature and maintaining the existing environment in his recent Earth Day address. Not only did he emphasise the need to prioritise the environment over profits, he also pointed out that preserving the environment is a collective responsibility which needs to be carried out relentlessly, whatever the circumstances.
We hope that in the case of the ECRL and any other proposed projects, environmentally sensitive areas are avoided and stringent environmental safeguards would be incorporated where the impacts are identified. We trust that environmental sustainability will be one of the important topics discussed by Dr Mahathir when he meets with Chinese leaders in Beijing later this week.
A Native American proverb beautifully captures the sentiment of protecting this planet: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
This is the only earth we have. Let us collectively do the best we can to ensure its preservation for the current generation and those to come.
DR HENRY CHAN