Malaysia: Lojing - major disaster waiting to happen

SIM LEOI LEOI and NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 2 Oct 16;

GUA MUSANG: Lojing is dying. Something must be done fast by the authorities to rehabilitate the highlands or it will face problems like Ringlet in Cameron Highlands.

The saddening fact is massive land clearing for farms in the Lojing Highlands was highlighted more than three years ago.

No action was taken since then and now, the situation seems to be going downhill in the country’s Main Range, with no signs of improvement.

The highlands, which was pristine as recently as the late 1990s, has lost half of its forest cover, endangering the lives of orang asli settlement and rare species such as Rafflesia flowers.

The soil erosion is so bad that the water is now almost undrinkable.

“This is serious because Sungai Belatop is an upstream river in the highlands which joins up to Sungai Brok.

“There are orang asli settlements there which use these rivers for their daily water needs and Sungai Nenggiri in Kuala Krai before flowing into Sungai Kelantan in Kota Baru,” said hydrological and water quality modelling expert Prof Dr Mohd Ekhwan Toriman.

Prof Mohd Ekhwan pointed out that the major source of sedimentation in Sungai Kelantan came from the Lojing Highlands as a result of soil erosion which was also one of the main reasons why the river was not suitable to supply water in Kelantan.

The state now has to rely on tube wells for water in the area.

Heavy sedimentation as a result of soil erosion in Sungai Belatop in the highlands meant a reduction in the river’s capacity to hold the water.

“In Sungai Belatop, rainfall is localised over that particular area which can cause debris flood and mudflows and affect the orang asli settlements downstream.

“Lojing needs to be rehabilitated fast in order to prevent it from deteriorating further,” he said in an interview.

The Lojing Highlands, said Prof Mohd Ekhwan, was the backbone of Peninsular Malaysia as part of the Main Range, which contributed 60% of the country’s water reserves and acted as an indicator of local climate change.

“Any uncontrolled development will change the hydrological water cycle,” he said, adding that it was “still not too late to save Lojing”.

Showing a topography map of the highlands, Prof Mohd Ekhwan indicated that over a quarter of the land was at between 25° and 35° in inclination which was considered very steep.

“If you put a map of the land use side by side, you will notice that this corresponds with the areas cleared for farming.

“This is because it’s near the river network,” he said.

It has been reported that much of the land – some on steep hills – had been cleared for vegetable plots, especially by farmers from Cameron Highlands.

Many of these farms are not following best management practices such as proper waste disposal.

Prof Mohd Ekhwan said his study showed that one hectare was churning out 24 tonnes of coco peat and plastic waste, with about 26,301 tonnes of waste being produced yearly.

“If much of this waste is thrown into the river, it will have a huge environmental impact,” he said.

A 2012 study by Prof Mohd Ekhwan’s team showed that Sungai Belatop had rising levels of magnesium from the use of fertilisers while iron and calcium were also on the rise.

Cameron Highlands-Kinta-Lojing is among the three Special Management Areas in the Main Range where agriculture and urban-related activities have been permitted under strict control to safeguard safety and environmental quality.

The team has carried out research on water quality and river modelling in Lojing Highlands for the past 20 years.


Council: Logging in Kelantan not checked since March
The Star 2 Oct 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Logging activities in Kelantan has gone unchecked since March after the country’s leading timber certification organisation suspended auditing there.

The Malaysian Timber Certifi­ca­tion Council claimed the state authorities and loggers had failed to adhere to international standards and guidelines for forest management.

The council said the move came about after the parties did not respond to major non-conformity corrective recommendations.

As a result, all logs originating from the state after March were not certified under the international Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, making it harder for concessionaires to export these logs to foreign countries.

Johor is another state with a similar suspension since January.

However, a council spokesman clarified that logging activities were still deemed legal even without certification as long as a permit was issued by the state government.

According to the spokesman, the certification system was vital for due diligence practices in logging to ensure minimal environmental, safety and social impacts to the forest.

Among some of the international guidelines use by auditors to review logging activities here include the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Article 1 to 10 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the International Labour Organisation Conventions.

It also examines social impacts of logging under the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is pertinent now due to the recent Gua Musang standoff between villagers and loggers.


The hills of Lojing stripped bare
SIM LEOI LEOI and SYED AZHAR The Star 1 Oct 16;

GUA MUSANG: Travelling along the Central Spine Road from Cameron Highlands into Lojing, it’s hard to spot much greenery on both sides of the highway.
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Instead, in what was once the pristine Lojing Highlands – along the country’s Main Range and stretch of forest reserves – many tractors are busy at work clearing land.

When we reached there by jeep, we saw the tractors, a few almost perched on the treacherous slopes. The tractors looked like little more than ants against the vast backdrop of cleared hills.

Some of the areas involved were so vast that only an image from a drone or satellite could do justice to the size.

Where the excavators are not around, the land is almost certainly marked with the ubiquitous lines of greenhouse plastic all over the hillside.

The plastic covering is much like those at the vegetable farms in neighbouring Cameron Highlands.

Along the highway, several signboards, warning of wildlife from the permanent forest reserves nearby, including Lojing and Sg Brok, and that any development or land clearing must get the written permission of the Gua Musang land officer have been put up.

Many of the rivers – including Sungai Belatop, which meanders through the permanent Sungai Brok forest before joining Sungai Nenggiri and eventually, Sungai Kelantan – are a teh tarik colour.

Even the tributaries nearby, such as Sungai Jedip and Sungai Deng­kong, are polluted with soil from erosion, according to the orang asli nearby.

Along these rivers are various orang asli settlements, mainly from the Temiar tribe, who depend on the water for their daily needs.

Nasir Dollah, who used to live in one of the settlements in Lojing, said he used to fish from rivers in the area, such as Sungai Belatop.

“But now, we can no longer depend on the river. We need to buy our fish,” he said.

While the settlements had piped water supply, Nasir said the water from the rivers could not even be used for washing or cooking.

“To get some clean water, we have to go farther into the interior,” he said.

Asked if there was a warning issued against using the water from the rivers due to pollution, Nasir said he could not remember any.

“But the villagers feel that the water in the rivers is no longer suitable for use,” he said.

Another orang asli, Isa Alang, said Sungai Belatop was not the only polluted river.

“Other rivers in the area are also polluted due to land clearing and development nearby.

“We used to be able to bathe in the rivers. They are now full of yellow sand.

“We have raised the issue many times with various parties, inclu­ding the land office, but the matter has not been resolved,” said Isa, who is also the Community Develop­ment and Security Committee chief for the settlement at Pos Brooke, Lojing.

The settlement, with more than 58 families with over 200 residents, now has to totally depend on piped water supply for their daily needs.

The orang asli, however, are not keen on piped water. They are used to the getting their water from nature.

“If we want fresh river water, we have to walk very far, up to three to four hours into the jungle,” Isa added.

He also complained that besides Sungai Belatop, other nearby rivers such as Sungai Jedip and Sungai Dengkong were also heavily pollu­ted because of nearby development projects.


100ha of forest reserve now a durian orchard
The Star 1 Oct 16;

PETALING JAYA: A total of 100ha of land, about the size of 120 football fields, have been converted into a durian orchard in the permanent Sungai Brok forest reserve near the environmentally sensitive area of the Lojing Highlands.

This conversion is the latest in what critics have called blatant attempts by both the Kelantan go­vernment and companies to carve out areas of forests near the Central Spine Area, which is important for the country’s water reserves and the climate.

Already, the river basin of Sungai Belatop, an important water catchment area in the forest reserve, has been shown to be heavily polluted with sedimentation and heavy me­tals with pesticide residue from nearby farming.

Drastic changes in land use in the river basin, especially for vegetable farming and monoculture over the past years, have also affected nearby orang asli settlements, which largely depend on the river for their daily needs.

The Kelantan Mentri Besar has agreed to an application by a company to convert the 100ha of land. The state Forestry sub-committee is chaired by the mentri besar himself.

Under the application, the converted land is to be planted with durian kunyit, which is also known as the Musang King, one of the most expensive varieties in the market.

In August, the durian was priced up to RM60 per kg in the Klang Valley.

Kelantan Forestry director Zahari Ibrahim said he had no knowledge of the land approval.

He confirmed that there had been a request for land in the forest but claimed that this had been shot down by the mentri besar.

“We get all sorts of applications for forest land in Kelantan. Whether this is approved or not will be deci­ded by the mentri besar.

“As far as I know, the state go­vernment has frozen all applications for plantation purposes but I cannot remember when,” he said, adding that a letter dated March 31 was a “mere application”.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia field re­searcher Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman, who showed the letter to The Star, claimed such applications for land conversions were just an excuse for clearing of forest trees.

“In peninsular Malaysia, forest plantations, usually timber latex clone (TLC) rubber tree plantations, are still considered forest. Only the land use is changed but the land status remains,” he said.

“It is for this reason that the area of forest reserve in Kelantan has not changed,” claimed Meor Razak.

He also claimed that among a list of 41 licences approved for logging concessions by the state government in various permanent forest reserves in Gua Musang and Lojing, two were for mining in the Nenggiri forest reserve.

“This is against the Gua Musang local plan as well as the National Physical Plan,” he said.

Among the forest reserves affected are Perias, Sungai Betis, Ulu Galas, Nenggiri, Gunung Rabong, Sungai Brok and Batu Papan.

According to the Kelantan Forestry Department website, the area of gazetted Permanent Forest Reserve in the state stood at 623,849ha as at 2012.


Rafflesia in danger by land clearing
The Star 2 Oct 16;

GUA MUSANG: The rare Rafflesia – a flower that can grow up to 1m in diameter and 10kg in weight – has been severely affected by the land clearing activities in Lojing Highlands.

Universiti Malaysia Kelantan senior lecturer Zulhazman Hamzah said the growth of the rare species – considered the “icon of conservation” – depended on pollination and seed dispersal.

“When I first visited Lojing in 2008, I saw in one area more than 100 buds. But now, I see only about 30, a very drastic reduction.

“I think this is because of the development in the area,” he said.

There are about 28 species of the Rafflesia, which are found in only four countries in the world – Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The one found in Lojing, said Zulhazman, is believed to be the biggest in Malaysia and second biggest in the world.

Zulhazman added that the presence of these flowers could be promoted as an eco-tourism site to generate income for the state.

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