Source: The Star - STEPHEN THEN (View expressed here is solely the opinion of the source)
THERE are increasing warning signs emitted by our ecosystem to suggest that all is not well with Nature in many parts of Sarawak.
Last week, the Sarawak Forestry Department issued a notice saying that the Loagan Bunut National Park in interior northern Sarawak had to be shut down until further notice because of water shortage. Water shortage in a national park with lush greeneries? Now, if that is not worrying news, what is?
Two weeks ago, the Balui, Belaga and Rajang rivers in central Sarawak dried up in certain parts, so much so that cargo transportation was disrupted in several stretches.
Belaga assemblyman Liwan Lagang acknowledged the severity of the low water volume and the Bakun Dam management had to release more than 1,000cu m of water per second from the Bakun dam reservoir for two days running to shore up the water level in the three rivers.That is another serious indicator of trouble.
When there are three mighty rivers drying up, it is cause for worry. And for the past three weeks, Kuala Baram district in Miri Division was hit by wildfires and haze, so much so that even rain could not douse the peat fires.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah came to Miri and chaired a high-level meeting with the local Barisan Nasional politicians and heads of government department and agencies to try to deal with the issue, after the Air Pollutant Index hit the 270 mark at the fire sites in Kuala Baram.
I was assigned by my editors in Kuching to cover the press conference by Uggah. I went rather reluctantly. I had covered similar press conferences by Uggah year after year everytime the wildfires and haze happened and I sort of knew what he was going to say, again.
I was sceptical if he would say anything new. He admitted that the current measures used to tackle the wildfires and haze problem in Sarawak were not working and needed to be reviewed. He said the same thing last year.
Uggah said more water-pumps needed to be brought in to douse the fires, more fire-fighting volunteers needed to be trained and more effective enforcements must be put in place.
Again, these were the same things he said last year when the haze and wildfires happened in Miri.
I asked Uggah three questions, before he abruptly ended the press conference and hurried for a coffee break. My question were these: “Datuk, why is Sarawak still allowed to practise open burning to get rid of plantation and agricultural waste when peninsula states have already banned such open-burning and are practising zero-burning?
Uggah replied that in the peninsula states, only burning for religious rituals are allowed.He sidestepped my question.
I asked him another question: “Datuk, shouldn’t Sarawak be compelled to implement a zero-burning policy just like in the peninsula? Uggah replied: “I am sorry. That you have to ask the Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board.”
Again I asked him: “Datuk, unless zero-burning is implemented in Sarawak, next year we will end up with the same fire and haze problem and you will end up saying the same thing all over again.” Uggah merely repeated his last answer: “I am sorry, you have to ask the NREB.” And the press conference ended.
This sort of high-level meeting will continue to remain a futile public relations exercise unless they dare to deal with the core issue at hand. The core issue, as far as the wildfires and haze are concerned, is that if Sarawak continues to allow big plantations and estates to burn their waste through open-burning, the problems and issues at hand, as we know them today, will continue to make their annual return.
Our government politicians must stop making rhetorics and recycling excuses year after year. When they do that they are side-stepping serious issues that are staring them in the face.
The rhetorics and the repeated excuses must stop. Politicians need to be brave in voicing out issues that are important, even if it means stepping on sensitive toes.
I remember vividly an incident in Terengganu when I was there working as a reporter.
A peninsula-wide blackout occurred after the power-plant in Paka, central Terengganu, was hit by lightning.
Tenaga Nasional Bhd, at that time the sole power-producer in Peninsular Malaysia, tried to repair the damage, but the plant was struck by yet another lightning.
The whole of the peninsula ended up with serious power outage for three days in a row, resulting in massive losses in the manufacturing, industrial and business sectors.
We reporters in Kuala Terengganu approached Tan Sri Wan Mokhtar Ahmad, who was at that time the Mentri Besar of Terengganu, for his comments.
Wan Mokhtar said if TNB could not properly fulfill its role and prevent such power interruptions, Terengganu would open up the state for Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to start private power stations.
That news hit the front page national headlines the next day. TNB shares dropped by almost 80 sen the same day!
Energy Minister at that time, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu, called for an urgent press conference in Kuala Lumpur and angrily said that his ministry had not allowed the Terengganu state government to make any such announcement on private power producers. He said any such decision must come from his ministry, not the state government.
The next day, we reporters in Kuala Terengganu again went to see Wan Mokhtar to get his reply.
Wan Mokhtar did not back down. He insisted that his state government must protect the interests of investors in Terengganu and because electricity supply was the most important ingredient to draw investors, his state government would continue to pursue the idea of allowing IPPs to establish a power plant in the state.
Some two years later, the Federal Government started issuing licences to IPPs to set up power-generation projects in the peninsula.
In Sarawak, we can see the ecosystem screaming out for help. They are showing signs that all is not well.
It is about time our politicians show some guts and take remedial actions to stop further damage.