Probe and haul errant parties to court for destruction of Upper Baleh

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KUCHING: WWF-Malaysia has called on the Sarawak government to investigate and haul the errant parties to court for causing destruction to the environment in Upper Baleh, which is an important water catchment for Kapit, Sibu, Sarikei and Mukah divisions. 

The organisation also called for the cost of cleaning up to be borne by companies responsible for this disastrous logjam which affects both the environment and people’s livelihoods in rural and urban areas, said WWF-Malaysia Sarawak Conservation Programme Head of Conservation Dr Jason Hon in a statement today.

He said this in response to the logjam issue which has gone viral and widely reported in the media over the weekend. 

He said WWF-Malaysia also welcomed the Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing’s suggestion that licenses should not be renewed for irresponsible timber concessionaires who are operating at the upper reaches of Batang Baleh. 

“We cannot allow irresponsible companies to taint the state’s image and jeopardise our efforts towards sustainable forest management and certification,” he added.

It was reported that Masing said this should be done in order to stop the logjam from recurring, and that these companies operate in the headwaters of Batang Baleh without any consideration for the devastating environmental impact their activity causes.

Dr Hon said, “This can be traced by the forest authority through the intel unit and remote monitoring system to determine who is the culprit — timber concessionaires, dam developers/contractors, or communities as mentioned in several media reports.”

He hoped that authorities concerned would do a thorough yet swift investigation on the matter and be transparent with the outcome. 

The cost for cleaning up should be passed on to the culprits, he said, adding that it was time for polluters to pay the price for causing such an environmental disaster. 

Dr Hon reminded that actions that are happening in the interior and upstream can aggregate and impact those living downstream as well. 

“The impacts have now been felt along the entire Baleh and Rajang — what occurs upstream will affect the communities downstream. Hence, we need an integrated watershed approach. This also means users downstream, such as those in Sibu or Sarikei, will have a stake in how the upstream is managed collectively and holistically. 

The logjam not only caused water disruption in the nearest town, Kapit, but further downstream in Sibu as well, as reported in the media. 

A study by WWF-Malaysia in 2018 showed that ecosystem services in Baleh watershed are worth USD93.72 million per year, not including carbon sequestration. Sediment and flood regulation services are among the ecosystem services with the highest values to the communities here.

Moreover, Dr Hon pointed out that the Upper Baleh is part of the Heart of Borneo landscape which promotes sustainable use and management of natural resources — both on land and rivers — among different stakeholders. 

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