Friday, 23 November 2018

Letter to the Editor: No Development Should Take Place In Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve


It is with alarm that environmentalists and concerned citizens learned today of the proposed degazettement and development of parts of the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve in Gombak. 

Bukit Lagong provides more than just recreational and ecotourism value to the Selangor State Government, residents and visitors. Forests such as the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve provide multiple ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, flood protection, air quality improvement and water purification. Healthy trees absorb solar energy and release water vapour, thus regulating climate and temperature. Intact forests safeguard biodiversity, protect human health, and mitigate climate change. There is irrefutable data, including from various studies conducted by the World Bank, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Wetlands International, to support the assertion that forests are worth much more intact than when depleted, logged or converted into plantations. The economic returns of forest clearing for logging or development are short lived and can sustain only 1-2 generations at most. 

While the Selangor State Government’s action of calling for feedback and opening the proposed development for public inspection is an encouraging indication of greater transparency and participatory democracy, it must be emphasised that the opinion of the citizens, engineering professionals and the scientific and conservation community must also be taken into account, whether or not they have locus standi to object to the proposed development. Further, the feedback and objections from the public must be thoroughly considered, addressed and acted upon, not merely collected and then filed away to create the impression of civic participation. 

Any proposed development in an ecologically sensitive area with high conservation and high biodiversity value will adversely affect more than just people living in the immediate vicinity of the site. The clearing of forests for roads and construction will increase air and water pollution and the risk of soil erosion and landslides. The destruction of watershed areas will affect the entire state’s water supply and water quality. The opening up of access roads will create access not only for the construction vehicles, but also illegal loggers, poachers and wildlife traffickers. The construction of roads will fragment and bisect wildlife habitats, and the increase in traffic will result in wildlife deaths and wildlife-human conflict. The increase in motor vehicles and fossil fuel use in the area will contaminate the soil and groundwater with fuel runoffs. The clearing of trees will raise carbon dioxide emissions and reduce air quality. All these actions will affect more than just local residents. The damage to the environment will be irreversible, and yet those most severely affected by the destruction – namely, the trees and wildlife – have no suffrage and are unable to put in their written objections. 

The state government and developers have a duty of care not only to the local residents, but to all the living beings present and future who will foreseeably be harmed by the proposed development project. The well-being of the local human residents is interconnected with that of the local flora and fauna and even entities such as rivers and forests. 

The most preposterous thing about this proposed housing development project in Bukit Lagong is the fact that it is so patently wasteful and unnecessary. There is no shortage of viable housing development sites in Selangor. A study in June 2018 found that there are over 34,532 unsold completed residential units in Malaysia. Abandoned projects and lacklustre existing housing projects can be revived, improved and put back on the market. The advantage to reviving abandoned housing projects in urban and suburban areas is that there will often already be existing transportation, waste management and drainage infrastructure and systems, thus reducing the environmental and economic cost of providing housing. 

The proposed housing development project in Bukit Lagong is clearly not designed to meet the housing needs of the poorest and neediest, but to create an exclusive enclave for homebuyers who can afford the luxury of having a home in the heart of nature. The unfortunate cost of the privilege of living next to a forest reserve is that roads, sewage systems and waste management systems will have to be put in where there were none before, thus creating an additional burden on an already strained natural space. If the goals of proposed housing projects were to improve human quality of life, then such projects would be focused in urban areas close to amenities and infrastructures. The question of balancing environmental conservation and meeting human needs for adequate housing does not arise in this situation at all. 

The proposed Bukit Lagong development project must be immediately and irrevocably scrapped. It can benefit only an elite few but will harm a great many in the long run. I urge all concerned members of the public, whether or not you are residing in the vicinity of Bukit Lagong, to write in to the Director of the Selangor Forestry Department at Level 3, Bangunan Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, 40660 Shah Alam, Selangor, to politely and firmly state your objections to this irresponsible and indefensible proposal to degazette and develop the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve.