(To read the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment Report for the Hulu Tembat Hydroelectric project, please go
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
LOGGING OF ADDITIONAL CATCHMENT AREA HIGHLY IRREGULAR
Upon viewing the Executive Summary of the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) on the Hulu Terengganu Hydroelectric Project undertaken by TNB, I am deeply concerned over the impact the project would have on endangered wildlife, and the transparency of the project itself.
According to the aforementioned document, “Timbers will be extracted from the proposed 6,130 ha of the inundated area (Tembat and Puah Reservoirs) and the Terengganu State Government has further decided to extract timber from the 12,620 ha of the proposed catchment areas around the Tembat and Puah Reservoirs.”
No justification was provided for the State Government’s decision to clear-log the additional area surrounding the inundation area. The logging of an area twice the size of the proposed dam is highly irregular and raises suspicions that certain parties are being enriched at the expense of the environment.
What is extremely worrying is that the DEIA study team has found evidence of the critically endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros is the vicinity of the project area.
The Summary also categorises the project area as being one of high biodiversity, and acknowledges that the loss of indigenous flora as a result of logging, land clearing and construction activities would be permanent.
Although the proposed logging would be according to ‘selective logging’ procedures, the Summary further acknowledges that the impact of ‘selective logging’ is still expected to be significant on mammals. Tree-felling and forest-clearing activities would kill wildlife and destroy habitat and food sources. Local extinction is a distinct possibility. The opening up of logging roads would also provide hunters, poachers and illegal loggers with access to the project area.
The mitigation measures listed in the said Summary will appear to any concerned, right-thinking citizen as being too idealistic and unlikely to be enforced and adhered to. What is also disturbing is how the proponents of hydroelectric projects in Malaysia promote their projects as being absolutely necessary and sustainable.
Malaysians must be able to ask themselves how indispensable is a project that is estimated to hasten the extinction of critically endangered species, and which authorizes the State Government to fill its coffers by impoverishing the environment and wreaking destruction on an area 3 times the size than is required.
An argument often relied on by dam project proponents is that the construction of new dams is essential to meet the growing demand for water supply. This is illogical as Malaysia does not suffer from insufficient rainfall. To meet the demand for water, it is critical that those in authority address the issues of poor management of water resources, substandard and obsolete water infrastructure and non-revenue water loss (through theft, leakages and faulty water metres). In 2005, Syabas reported non-revenue water to be 38% for Selangor. The solution to the challenge of ensuring sustainable water supply definitely does not lie in constructing an infinite number of dams in vital watershed areas.
The Hulu Terengganu Hydroelectric Project is touted to be an emission-free source of renewable energy once completed. Since all the parties concerned have already proceeded with the said Project, any objection to its construction at this point will be academic. However, we must remember that hydroelectric dams are not without environmental impact. The construction of hydroelectric dams causes significant and irreversible harm to wildlife, displacement of indigenous peoples and the destruction of important carbon sinks. Malaysia must look towards other forms of renewable energy such as solar and wind power, hydrogen fuel cells and biomass power and must be open to harnessing these technologies if we are serious about finding permanent solutions to the issue of power generation and supply without creating new environmental crises.
In the meantime, we hope that the Terengganu State Government and Terengganu State Forestry Department would be able to provide some insight into the reason for the logging of the additional 12,620 ha of the proposed catchment areas.
WONG EE LYNN
PETALING JAYA, SELANGOR