Thursday, September 19

Coalition praises Sabah Chief Minister’s concern for the environment

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KOTA KINABALU: Coalition Humans Habitats Highways (3H) applauded a statement by Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, that the construction of the Pan-Borneo Highway must not be at the expense of the forest and ecosystem.

Coalition 3H also welcomes the Chief Minister’s view that the construction should only involve the expansion of existing roads and not the opening or construction of new alignments that would affect forested areas.

As a joint platform of civil society and scientific research organisations grappling with the complexities of road and infrastructure development, Coalition 3H reiterates its commitment to work constructively with potentially affected communities, planners, decision makers and the broader public to identify solutions that minimise negative impacts and maximise benefits of the Pan-Borneo Highway for Sabah’s people, nature and economy.

Coalition 3H comprises the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), Borneo Futures, Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), Forever Sabah, Jaringan Orang Asal Se-Malaysia (JOAS), Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), PACOS Trust and WWF-Malaysia.

Forever Sabah chief executive facilitator, Cynthia Ong, said with its wealth of biological and cultural diversity, Sabah is a global leader in conservation and its commitments to transition towards a sustainable and equitable economy.

“We at Coalition 3H would like to offer our collective expertise and energy to support the state government to find the best ways to maximise benefits and reduce risks of the Pan-Borneo Highway.

“We come from diverse perspectives amongst us and realise the complexity of overlapping issues on the state’s path of development. This guidance from the Chief Minister on protecting Sabah’s natural heritage can provide an opening for a groundbreaking collaboration,” she said in a statement issued by the Coalition yesterday.

DGFC director, Dr Benoit Goossens, who described the Chief Minister’s remarks as “refreshing” and a “big relief”, said forest degradation would also negatively impact the livelihoods of local communities, including fishermen in some coastal areas that still have mangroves.

“While we certainly do not oppose economic development and the construction of the highway, we are concerned that certain stretches of the Pan-Borneo Highway are slated to cross several protected areas that are crucial habitats for protected and endangered species and also important for eco-tourism, local livelihoods and ecosystem functions and services that are important for all Sabahans,” he said.

The current alignment of the two-lane coastal road from Tuaran to Simpang Mengayau will cross several Class V mangrove forest reserves and the Kota Belud Bird Sanctuary, which are important eco-tourism assets for the region.

The mangrove forest reserves are the last habitats on the north-west coast of Sabah for the proboscis monkey, which is a totally protected species endemic to Borneo and a major tourist attraction.

A road going through those mangroves would be highly damaging and would undermine the tourism potential.

As mangroves are also important breeding grounds for fish, prawns and other sea food species, the degradation of those forests would also harm the livelihoods and cultures of many fishing communities and others who depend upon the rich coastal and marine resources.

“We hope that with the help of the state government, we can find an alternative alignment in order to save those last forest mangroves in the area,” stressed Goossens.

Coalition 3H is working to identify alternative alignments as well as appropriate mitigation measures not only for the Tuaran-Kudat stretch, but also for other key hotspots throughout Sabah.

For the stretches of the Pan-Borneo Highway in the Kinabatangan, the Coalition is proposing eco-link or wildlife overpasses in order to try to maintain habitat and wildlife connectivity.

In addition, the proposed expansion of the two-lane road to a four-lane road in Kalabakan Tawau will be needed to mitigate impacts of crossing through 170km of elephant and banteng (wild cattle) range. — Bernama