THE first session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly starts in Nairobi today. Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, accompanied by various officials, will be attending.
It’s an honour that the executive director of UN-Habitat is the former mayor of Penang Island, Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif.
In 2015, more than 190 world leaders had committed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): (1) No poverty, (2) No hunger, (3) Good health, (4) Quality education, (5) Gender equality, (6) Clean water and sanitation, (7) Renewable energy, (8) Good jobs and economic growth, (9) Industry, innovation and infrastructure, (10) Reduced inequalities, (11) Sustainable cities and communities, (12) Responsible consumption, (13) Climate action, (14) Life below water, (15) Life on land, (16) Peace and justice, (17) Partnerships for the goals.
Goal No.2 is meant to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. Goal No 14 is to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development”. It goes on to give a short explanation thus: “Marine and coastal biodiversity isn’t just beautiful; it provides the livelihoods of more than 3 billion people. We can stop and reverse the damage we have done to our world’s oceans if we act quickly to conserve and protect our marine resources and habitats”.
Penang is now pursuing urban development with the creation of three man-made islands, totalling 1,821ha, south of the main island of Penang. This area is a centuries-old inshore fishing area rich in seafood. The Fisheries Department recognises it as a vital fish breeding ground, and takes measures to protect it from being damaged or destroyed by trawlers.
However, the Penang government, while subscribing to the UN-Habitat’s SDGs, is working against that in the name of development.
In an interview with the executive director of the Penang Institute, Maimunah talked about “doing things differently”.
Penang’s three-island project is meant to outdo Singapore’s Marina Bay. Why has Penang got to compete with Singapore? Why can’t Penang be different from Singapore? What is the problem with having rich agricultural land or seafood-producing areas next to concrete cities?
There is a need to drive home into the nations’ leaders that the most important kind of sustainable development that the world needs is food security. It is no point having various kinds of “development” if people are not going to have sufficient food to live on.
The world’s population is expected to double in the next 50 years, and double again in the following 50 years. Is this sustainable? Is no thought being given to the food needs of this multiplying population? Should the present generation be so oblivious of this and encourage development that destroys food producing areas?
Such food producing grounds are indispensable for true sustainable development and governments must keep these areas off limits to developers. Hence a specific goal on “food security” is needed.
Hopefully, the delegates from Penang will return from this UN-Habitat session and “do things differently” so that the rich fishing grounds which are acknowledged and being protected by the Fisheries Department will not be destroyed in the desire to outdo Singapore’s Marina Bay.
Penang does not need such “development”.