Friday, 15 April 2016

Letter to the Editor: Stop Degazetting Forest Reserves for Highway Projects

The Selangor State Government’s tenacity in degazetting and destroying forest reserves for tolled highway projects is an outrage to the principles of integrity, transparency and environmental responsibility it had promised it would uphold during the last General Elections.
The East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE) would brutalise the Ulu Gombak and Ampang forests, fragmenting wildlife habitats and destroying vital watershed areas as it does so. Now the proposed Sungai Besi – Ulu Klang Elevated Expressway (SUKE) would bisect and destroy more green lungs, including Bukit Saga, a nature spot beloved by hikers and campers, while the proposed Damansara-Shah Alam Highway (DASH) would cut through the Bukit Cherakah and Sungai Buloh forest reserves.
The plans for these highway projects are seen to have been pushed through with alarming haste, without giving citizen action groups and residents sufficient notice or opportunity to provide their feedback on the same. It has been reported that the SUKE and DASH highway projects were not even formally listed in the local planning documents as required by the Town and Country Planning Act 1976, and as such, the said plans should have been rejected from the start.
The destruction of these vital forest reserves in an already overdeveloped state will result in more dry spells and poorer water and air quality for Selangor residents. Constructing roads through previously forested areas would increase wildlife mortality, provide access to loggers, poachers and hunters, and increase soil, water, air, noise and light pollution in ecologically-sensitive areas. Residents in areas near highways would not only suffer adverse health effects, but would also be deprived of recreational areas and the opportunity to connect with nature.
As the rest of the world is making its best efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change, the proponents of these highway projects appear to be quite happy to increase carbon emissions and damage to natural areas while paying lip service to the ideas of environmental protection and community engagement. No amount of tree-planting and environmental awareness campaigns can compensate for the loss of vital forest reserves, some of which are centuries old.
There is insufficient evidence that highway construction can divert traffic away from congested areas and improve traffic flow. Any road user in Malaysia can attest to the fact that traffic congestion can occur on highways as well as trunk roads and residential areas. If anything, highway projects encourage greater private vehicle ownership and put more vehicles on our roads. Traffic volume will simply rise along with the number of roads if there are no feasible alternatives to driving.
The solution to traffic problems is not to increase the number of highways, but to create solid, functional alternatives to driving and private vehicle ownership. A reliable and extensive public transport system (especially a bus service using existing road systems) and increased road safety will benefit human populations and reduce harm to the environment, cost less and take less time to implement than the construction of more highways.
Governments need to be responsive to the changing transportation needs of its citizens. Higher urban costs of living mean that fewer people will be able to afford private vehicles. A younger and more educated urban population will also mean greater concern for the environment and greater interest in cycling, telecommuting, ride-sharing, working from home and flexible work hours.
Malaysia has the infrastructure and resources to create an efficient and practical public transport system, but we need to improve our service and maintenance culture. We need leaders with the political will to reduce environmental damage and stop wasting public funds on unnecessary highway projects. If these highway projects are allowed to proceed despite the strong objections of citizens, we, the citizens, will have to bear the economic and environmental cost of the state government’s profligacy and lack of foresight.

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