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Malaysia has for the last months been battling the aftermath of one of the worst floods the country has experienced in the last 30 years. Several environmental groups in Malaysia have called for a suspension on conversions of forestry into plantations and agricultural land, as it worsens the risk of heavy water run-offs. Environmentalists are urging government to protect the forest and wetlands rather than to build dams as solutions to the problems that the annual monsoon floods bring. Shamila Ariffin from Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) - Friends of the Earth Malaysia comments on the severe situation in Malaysia.
In a public statement on the 19th of January SAM called all states in Malaysia “to immediately halt further forest-to-plantation conversions”. Shamila clarifies that the background to this statement is related to the severity of the recent floods: ”the added intensity that has never been seen before in living memory”.
SAM has tracked the development of tree plantations in Malaysia during 2008-2013 and has found that one of the core problems is: “the practice of putting the statistics of these plantations in the statistics of the forested areas and reserved forests”. SAM has found that there have been huge conversions hidden in the data: “you will have to look deeper and see that behind this statistical stability you can see a drastic increase.” Shamila believes that the general Malaysian public does not have a clear picture of how large the conversion have been, as it is hidden in the statistics.
Shamila explains that the environmental consequences from the forest-to-plantation conversions and the annual monsoon floods are reported to be severe: “the country was shocked to see the intensity of the floods”. Furthermore, she describes how the development of plantation conversion has threatened communities’ livelihoods, food sources, water sources and land rights.
Several environmental groups in Malaysia have come together in this question urging government to stop the forest-to-plantation conversions. Shamila emphasizes how civil society movements and groups has pushed the question on forest destruction in the aftermaths of the floods. She concludes that the added attention has opened up space to look deeper into policies on this topic: “it is good to see that there now is more focus looking at the details of this question”.
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