Sight for sore eyes: Baru claims satellite imagery evidence shows Sarawak has only 11% of primary forest left.
SARAWAK must practise sustainable logging and preserve its remaining primary forest to counter a new strain of malaria infecting humans from wild monkeys.
Ba’Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian said an American science magazine reported last week that the Plasmodium knowlesi parasite carried by long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques had become the leading cause of malaria in Malaysia, accounting for nearly 70% of cases in Sarawak and Sabah.
According to the report, he said, the surge in P. knowlesi infections coincided with a stark increase in deforestation.
The report quoted Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s malaria research centre director Prof Dr Balbir Singh as saying that deforestation to convert forests into oil palm plantations might be driving macaques into other habitats closer to settlements.
Baru said this was reminiscent of what happened in Africa over the past 20 years when the loss of forest habitat drove bats to areas closer to the human population and thus Ebola, a disease common in bats, spread to humans.
“I am aware that the government does not agree with satellite imagery evidence that Sarawak has only 11% of primary forest left, but the evidence is available and the warning is clear.
“We must learn from the Ebola outbreak and be prepared for the consequences if we do not take steps to practise real sustainable logging and preserve the little virgin forest that is left to us,” he said when debating the budget.
He called on the Health Ministry to alert healthcare providers in the state on the new malaria strain and ensure that anti-malarial drugs were available in all hospitals and clinics, especially in rural areas.
Baru also urged the state government to reconsider its plans to build more dams, citing the risk of dam failure and their high social and environmental costs.
In addition, he said, studies had found that the actual construction costs of large dams were too high to yield a positive return.
“I propose to the government that instead of building big dams, we should look at alternatives such as mini-hydro systems as well as solar and wind power projects, which will cause minimum disruption to the people and environment and will be more cost-effective,” he said.
He also wanted to know the location and cost of the proposed Trusan 2 and Lawas dams and whether the environmental impact assessment (EIA) had been done.
“I do not want a repeat of the Murum dam, where it was reported by Suhakam that work started 10 months prior to the EIA approval and that there was no free, prior and informed consultation with the affected communities. Neither were civil society and environmental groups invited for their views,” he said.