Does the Sarawak government even know how much of the state's rainforest is left?
KUCHING: Conflicting statements from Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and his much-speculated successor Awang Tengah Ali Hassan over the size of Sarawak’s remaining rainforest have raised more questions.
According to Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian, last week Taib said that 48% of the land mass in the state was still covered with forest.
The same Taib in a YouTube video posted last year claimed that 70% of Sarawak’s forest was intact, which is equivalent to about 8.68 million hectares (ha). This year the figure is 6 million ha.
“This means that in just over one year, 2.68 million ha of our forest has been destroyed. Is the chief minister intending to continue clearing what is left?
“Will the figure next year be five million ha? What about the disastrous consequences of the deforestation that have been carried out to date?” asked Bian.
Sarawak’s total land mass is about 12.4 million ha.
Taib’s statement also contradicts comments made by Awang Tengah, who is Resource Planning and Environment Second Minister, on the same issue.
Bian said in February this year, Awang Tengah declared proudly at the World Wetlands Day celebrations that the state is more than 80% covered with forest.
He also declared that the state has targeted to turn some one million ha of its natural forest by 2020 into totally protected areas in the form of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
A further six million ha will be left untouched to become permanent forest while another two million ha has been approved for forest rehabilitation programme.
“Now we’re left confused. If the chief minister says that there is only six million ha of forest left and Awang Tengah says one million ha will be turned into totally protected areas and six million ha will be left untouched, then all logging activities should stop immediately to preserve the six million ha that is left.
“But that still leaves us with one million ha short for the totally protected areas.
“Clearly, the authorities do not wish to disclose the statistics to the public, judging from the conflicting figures presented to the public.
“Perhaps they do not know themselves how much of our forests is left. At the same time, they deny the claims of environmentalists that judging from satellite images, Sarawak has lost up to 90% of its primary forest cover.
“The land belongs to the people of Sarawak and the authorities have been entrusted to manage and protect this precious lifeline of the people.
“The least they can do is to disclose the accurate figures to the public instead of giving us such confusing and conflicting figures,” Bian said.
He said the conflicting statements are not helping dispel people’s growing distruct of the BN government.
Already hogging the alternative media headlines and online Radio Free Sarawak broadcasts are widespread allegations of land grabs and self-enriching projects by those in power.
Said Bian: “There are now more questions than answers. What are they to do with the countless number of people displaced and dispossessed by logging and plantation companies which are now fighting for their NCR lands?
“What about the destruction of the habitat of wildlife by these companies and the loss of the sources of food and medicinal plants for the people who live off the land?
“And the pollution and silting of the rivers caused by the logging activities and the resulting loss of fish and aquatic life?”
He also questioned the quality of the remaining forest and urged the government to define the term “forest”.
“Do planted forests and plantations come under the government’s definition of ‘forest’?
“How much of the merchantable timber is left? In many areas, the natives are left with low-grade timber which they cannot use for building their houses or boats.
“The other burning issues for me are how much of the land in Sarawak are plantation land, and protected forests and how much of the protected areas have been excised for plantations by the government,” said Bian, who is also Bakelalan assemblyman.