WWF-Malaysia supports the Kedah state government’s pledge to protect sensitive areas and calls on it to ensure that Ulu Muda’s water catchment forests remain untouched.
On May, 26, the media reported Kedah Mentri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor’s statement that the state government would not compromise sensitive areas such as those near dams and lakes or if there was the risk of damaging the environment or disrupting residential areas.
We welcome the MB's pledge and would like to reiterate that the delineation of sensitive water catchment areas should not merely be limited to those that have already been gazetted as protection forests. The gazettement of water catchment forests should encompass all areas that conform to the scientific definition of what a water catchment forest is.
Ulu Muda's water catchment forests provide a lifeline to Kedah and the northern region. Comprising eight forest reserves (FR), namely Ulu Muda FR, Ulu Muda (Additional) FR, Pedu FR, Bukit Saiong FR, Padang Terap FR, Chebar Besar FR, Chebar Kecil FR and Bukit Keramat FR, every single one of these forest reserves is important for provisioning water, regulating climate change and flood
This natural water resource enables Kedah’s role as Malaysia’s Rice Bowl, irrigating the Muda Agricultural Development Authority's (Mada) granary area, which contributes 40% of our rice production. Thus the direct link between these forests to our food security cannot be emphasised more.
Water originating from these forests also fulfil the needs of domestic users, businesses and industries that provide jobs to millions and spur the state's economy.
Keeping the forests of Ulu Muda intact is also key to coping with the impending impacts of climate change. Even now, the impacts are becoming more evident: Kedahans have been facing extreme weather events with increasing intensity and frequency, such as floods, droughts and typhoons. Due to the prolonged drought earlier this year, water levels in Muda Dam dropped to critical levels,
dipping to only 7.44% of its total capacity of 160 billion litres. The lack of water affected this year’s padi crop and, subsequently, the income of farmers.
Changes in forest cover through logging in Ulu Muda's water catchment would have severe impacts on this extremely sensitive ecosystem and may further worsen the situation in the future due to impacts to water quality and water yield. For this reason, the projection on climate change effects on rainfall and water resources by the National Water Research Institute of Malaysia (Nahrim) strongly suggests the need for Malaysia to strengthen the resilience of its natural ecosystems through mitigation and adaptation.
As a forest complex crucial to the nation’s food security and providing water to the northern states, the greater expanse of the Ulu Muda water catchment must be protected from any form of activities that degrade the environment.
Ulu Muda forest also harbours rich biodiversity of wildlife, such as the Asian elephant, the Malayan tapir and all 10 species of hornbill found in Malaysia. As part of the ecosystem, every species plays a role in maintaining the health of the forest. So keeping the forest intact for biological conservation is another reason why the Ulu Muda forests need to be protected.
While protecting Ulu Muda is critical, WWF-Malaysia also recognises that the state government has been dependent on logging revenue. As such, when the Ulu Muda forests are fully protected, there will be a reduction in revenue, which will need to be met through other sources.
In the quest for new revenue sources, and in the era of the Covid-19 pandemic which has shaken the world’s economy largely structured around non-sustainable practices, governments around the world are examining how their economies can be rebuilt. This includes exploring ways to improve fiscal measures, ensure food security and at the same time protect the resilience of their natural ecosystems. Many of these efforts are done through strategic collaborations and innovations.
We urge Kedah to do the same by enhancing the symbiotic relationship between People and Nature, where we get back what we give. Building our economy on the foundations of sustainability and green growth increases our adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainties.
WWF-Malaysia acknowledges the challenges the state government faces in moving towards a green economy. We believe the long-term survival and benefits for people and nature must supersede all other values in developing sustainable revenue that safeguards its irreplaceable natural assets.
Over the years, in promoting the conservation of Ulu Muda, WWF-Malaysia has worked closely with state agencies to explore solutions that benefit the economy, people and nature, and look forward to continuing this cooperation with the state government. Together, NGOs, local communities, the private sector, financial institutions and the state government can bring Kedah and its people into a new era of conservation and green growth to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
This is the time to build back better.
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