WWF: RM48m allocation welcome but insufficient
Published on: Monday, October 21, 2019
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Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia must ensure that the harvesting of timber does not impinge upon future timber stocks or negatively impact the ecosystem services that forests provide, said a top WWF Malaysia official. 

The NGO said forests which have been fragmented into isolated patches should establish wildlife corridors as determined by the “central forest spine” (CFS) and Heart of Borneo (HoB).

“Rivers are the source of almost 97 per cent of our water and the headwaters of our rivers originate in the forested water catchments within the CFS and HoB,” said WWF Malaysia Conservation Director Dr Henry Chan in a statement.

“Apart from designated protected areas such as national parks, most of the forests in the CFS and HoB are designated for forest management, which includes timber harvesting. Hence, the allocation of RM48 million [in Budget 2020] is welcome but insufficient to undertake these critical conservation measures.”

Chan also hoped the Budget 2020 allocations for conservation will be used strategically to maximise impact, including reversing the impending extinction of the Malayan tiger, the symbol of Malaysian pride, and national identity.

“With just fewer than 200 Malayan tigers left in the wild, protection of this species must be prioritised,” he said. 

“Saving our tigers creates a domino effect on other species, as they are apex predators and help to maintain healthy and intact natural forests. 

“We need key actions to address the main threats. Increased patrolling efforts to deter wildlife crime that decimates our tigers and their prey is a critical step. Thus, the RM20 million allocation to employ rangers, including appointing Orang Asli, is a good start.”

Chan, however, hoped this will not be a one-off effort as the lack of wildlife enforcement personnel to effectively protect forests has long been a major gap in natural resource management. 

“Filling this gap must be made a priority and funding allocations for such resources need to be sustained over the long-term to avoid further loss of our natural heritage,” he said.

“Rangers play an important role in protecting our wildlife, from removing snares to apprehending poachers. Snares not only are threats to tigers but also to other species as well like sun bear, elephant and deer. 

“Snares are indiscriminate. If these snares are not removed, our forests in the CFS will be emptied in no time.”

Chan also welcomed the RM10 million matching grants to generate new schemes for the corporate and financial sectors to take up more active roles in conservation. 

“To this end, we urge the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank, as well as other regulators, to adopt and regulate environmental social governance in the provision of loans and investments. 

“Such measures would drive corporate behaviour to be more responsible towards conserving the environment,” said Chan.

However, it is disappointing that allocations for ecological fiscal transfers (EFTs) to state and municipal governments were not made as was in Budget 2019. 

“EFT incentivises local governments to conserve their natural environment based on ecological indicators, such as protected area coverage,” explained Chan.

“As the Government seeks to maintain at least 50 per cent of our land mass under natural forest cover, it is crucial that EFT is institutionalised with clear mechanisms and indicators to encourage long-lasting conservation impacts.

Chan added that the Government’s plan for flood mitigation projects in 2020 amounting to RM443.9 million should utilise nature-based solutions where applicable, apply green technologies or practices that allow for more groundwater recharge and storage, and encourage responsible solid waste management practices by communities. 

“These efforts should be coupled with the provision of waste management facilities by the relevant authorities in order to tackle the problem of drainage blockages that could lead to more flooding,” he said.

“Droughts are also occurring at higher frequency and severity as our planet continues to warm,” he said. 

“Maintaining the healthy conditions of our forest is critical in mitigating the inevitable effects of climate change, such as conditions that contribute to widespread and prolonged man-made forest fires. 

“As much as possible, we must retain our tree canopies, which provide shade for the forest floor to retain its moisture, therefore helping to mitigate forest fires.”

Looking at marine ecosystems, Chan highlighted the severe threats Malaysia’s fisheries are facing, with a loss of 96 per cent of demersal fish stocks from 1970 levels. 

He stressed that if Malaysia aspires to develop and maintain a sustainable ocean economy, major efforts are needed in conserving, enhancing and sustainably managing marine natural assets. 

“Allocation is very much needed in enhancing conservation efforts in key seascapes within and beyond the Coral Triangle area to recover damaged marine ecosystems, prevent illegal fishing and poaching of marine wildlife. However, Budget 2020 failed to address this.”

Chan lauded the specific allocations towards financing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) initiatives, but noted that formal government action on the SDGs have yet to be mainstreamed to local constituencies. 

“The allocated RM5 million will thus boost efforts to address the SDGs at the grassroots level, incorporating economic, social, environmental, human rights and good governance aspirations,” aspired Chan. 

Environmental pollution issues have also been in the spotlight, he said, adding haze and toxic waste dumping in Sungai Kim Kim affecting vulnerable school children and frequent water supply disruptions due to pollution are a few examples of what Malaysians have to endure due to pollution. 

“As such, WWF-Malaysia welcomes that the Government has recognised the need to address such issues by allocating RM30 million to the Department of Environment and Chemistry Department,” he said.

“We need to have more effective long-term planning and adequate resources to address environmental problems that affect us today, as well as mitigating and adapting to the inevitable emergence of natural phenomena that impact on us tomorrow,” added Chan.

The economy, according to Chan, relies heavily on services from the environment that are often unacknowledged, including providing fresh water, air, food and protection from severe weather. 

“We are in danger of losing these services if we do not protect our natural environment,” he said.


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