WE refer to the announcement by the government on the renegotiated East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project. We welcome the news that the new alignment will no longer cut through the Main Range and any possible impacts to the Klang Quartz Ridge will be avoided.
We also welcome the fact that the nation will be saving RM21.5 billion or more through the renegotiations.
In an interview published on March 31, Tun Daim Zainuddin, who led the renegotiations, was quoted as saying that projects that were deferred or cancelled post-GE14 must be restarted as decided by the Cabinet, as long as the cost is lowered but with the same specifications.
Therefore, in reducing the costs of the project, we hope that the specifications to avoid or reduce environmental impacts of the project will not be compromised.
The specifications included incorporating tunnels and elevated tracks to avoid and reduce forest fragmentation. Based on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which was carried out in 2017 for the ECRL project and information from past dialogue with the Malaysian Rail Link Sdn Bhd and consultants, we understand that apart from the tunnel through the Main Range, a total of 44 tunnels as well as 27 wildlife crossings will be needed at various stretches along the original alignment to prevent forest fragmentation, as the alignment cuts through forest reserves. As such, we hope that the tunnels, elevated tracks and wildlife crossings will still be retained as part of the project specifications in areas where the alignment would still pass through forests. This is to ensure wildlife movement is not impeded, prevent easy accesses into the forests by poachers and to safeguard the ecosystem services provided by these forests.
It needs to be noted that large mammals such as tigers, elephants, tapirs and sun bears are found in and near some of the forested areas which the ECRL and the spur lines will cut through.
Additionally, we note that recent reports in the media indicate that the Department of Environment has not received an EIA for the new alignment. As the new alignment could also have environmental impacts, we urge the government to assess the environmental impacts of this new alignment and incorporate measures at the design stage to prevent impacts such as forest fragmentation.
We also strongly urge the government to have a dialogue with stakeholders, including environmental groups, to explain the changes to the project and obtain feedback.
We also call on the government to ensure that sufficient budget is allocated to mitigate all environmental impacts and the implementation of environmental and wildlife management and monitoring plans, which are also crucial components of the project. Forming an independent monitoring committee will also help to provide a check and balance on the implementation of these plans.
Giving priority to avoid environmental impacts such as realigning the tracks to prevent forest loss and fragmentation, and having proper mitigation measures where environmental impacts cannot be avoided is an investment in our future.
Forests not only harbour wildlife which are already dwindling due to poaching, forest loss and fragmentation; it also supports crucial ecosystem services.
Sustainable development is about conserving environmentally sensitive areas, avoiding harm to the environment and ensuring environmental safeguards are incorporated at the design stage of any project.
It is really heartening that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad stressed the need to balance physical development with the preservation of nature and maintaining the environment in his Earth Day address.
Not only did he emphasise the need to prioritise the environment over profits, he also pointed out that preserving the environment is a collective responsibility which needs to be carried out relentlessly, whatever the circumstances. We hope that in the case of the ECRL and any other proposed projects, environmentally sensitive areas are avoided and stringent environmental safeguard measures will be incorporated where impacts are identified.
We trust that environmental sustainability will be one of the important topics discussed by the prime minister when he meets Chinese leaders in Beijing later this month.
A native American proverb beautifully captures the sentiment of protecting this planet – “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”.
This is the only Earth we have. Let us collectively do the best we can to ensure it’s preservation for the current generation and those to come – let us heed the call of our prime minister.
Dr Henry Chan