Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
Beta bersyukur ke hadrat ILAHI kerana dengan izin dan rahmat dariNya juga Beta dapat berangkat untuk menyempurnakan perasmian Persidangan Pelan Induk Bersepadu Hutan Hujan Tropika Belum-Temengor pada pagi ini.
- I am delighted to be here this morning to officiate at the opening of the Conference Towards the Development of an Integrated Master Plan for the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest. It heartens me to see all the stakeholders of our natural crowning glory, the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest, gathered here at a time that, to say the least, is among the most challenging in generations. Looking at trends globally, it appears that concerns over nature and the environment thrive during times of economic wellbeing, but once a recession sets in, they tend to become an afterthought. Your presence at this conference, in spite of the economic climate, is testimony to your seriousness towards the protection and careful management of our natural heritage in general, and the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest in particular.
- There are compelling reasons for the development of this master plan. Belum-Temengor is the largest remaining contiguous tract of unprotected rainforest in Peninsula Malaysia. The Royal Belum has been gazetted a state park, but Temengor, its adjacent neighbour, is currently not within the boundaries of national protection. This means that it is defenceless against obliteration. Sadly, although the Royal Belum is a protected forest, it has come to my attention that the poaching of wildlife, including tigers and elephants, is still a major problem there. Our large mammals are declining at an alarming rate, some face the threat of extinction in the near future. This indicates that despite the existence of numerous laws pertaining to wildlife-protection, forestry and other aspects of natural resource-management, they are either inadequate or they suffer from ineffective enforcement.
- Like any developing nation, Malaysia places heavy emphasis on economic development in order to raise the living standards of its growing population. However, economic development and population growth place great demands on scarce resources. Typically, developing countries have limited financial means and managerial resources to adequately address environmental concerns and keep damage to the minimum. In Malaysia, a 2005 study by the Economic Planning Unit found that our national parks, state parks and wildlife reserves are under-funded to the tune of 37 million Ringgit per year.
- In our race towards economic progress, the balance has tipped away from efforts to tackle conservation issues. Logging and indiscriminate development remain the foremost challenges to the continuity of our rainforests, including the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest. This in turn is jeopardising the continued existence of some of our precious species and sites.
- And what more when times are tough? We must of course proceed with our endeavours to lead our people out of poverty and towards improved living standards. But should we be exploiting more and more of our dwindling resources in order to cope with an economic crunch? Are our forests worth more dead than alive? In the short term, the answer appears to be ‘yes’. Forests are worth a lot in exchange for its timber, for industry, for agriculture. But in the long run, the price we pay is the change in climate, increased carbon dioxide levels, diminished fresh water supply, the depletion of a large proportion of our living species, the threat of natural disaster, and hence, our own existence.
- I am pleased that there exists today a new consciousness about environmental concerns, both globally and locally – to the point where it is almost fashionable. There is a growing realisation that the old model of industrial development is not good enough to sustain our wellbeing. Certainly not for the long haul. We must discard our “grow first, clean up later” mentality. We need to find ways to simultaneously pursue economic development while preserving the balance of nature.
- Being a “Johnny-come-lately” to the game of rainforest management has its advantages and disadvantages. The main disadvantage for Belum-Temengor is that the damage that has already been done cannot be easily reversed. The advantage is that we can draw from the experience of others. Allow me to quote some examples:
- In Costa Rica, there are numerous eco-friendly resorts built amidst nature but without compromising its surroundings, constructed and furnished entirely using recycled material. These resorts conduct tours that highlight the natural beauty of the land with the corresponding aim of helping raise environmental awareness. Costa Rica has become noted for keeping its landscape environmentally pristine, for checking indiscriminate development and for sustaining natural habitats.
- Over in the Peruvian Amazon, global travellers are taken on wildlife expeditions in the form of volunteer placements, with proceeds going towards the conservation of the rainforest. This programme engages the visitor as volunteers in research, conservation activities and local community development. Apart from drawing in funds and providing jobs to the local community, the programme also supplies the necessary manpower to support activities such as wildlife monitoring, forest trail maintenance, reforestation, water purification and educating the local children in sustainable development practices.
- In the Great Lakes region of Africa, the authorities issue certifications to indigenous products made by local inhabitants that are recognised as ‘sustainably-produced’. This provides livelihood to the indigenous communities while helping to combat illegal exploitation of natural resources.
- A fine local example is the Danum Valley in Sabah – renowned as a research haven that attracts researchers from universities and research institutions worldwide. Studies conducted at the Danum Valley contribute not only to the science base, but also to the conservation and sustainable use of rainforests in general.
- There are countless other success stories that are very pertinent to the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest. Therefore, we have no reason not to get it right and every reason to do it better. And if well planned and properly executed, this national treasure has all the makings of a ‘must-see’ in Asia or, if I may be so bold to say, in the world.
- I cannot over-emphasise the importance of well-planned policies and well-crafted legislation in safeguarding the integrity of the Belum Temengor Tropical Rainforest. Stakeholders should explore the possibility of enacting special legislation to ensure its comprehensive and continued preservation alongside its development as a tourism product.
- Whilst policies and laws are only as effective as their enforcement, there must also be sufficient resources to efficiently regulate, manage and protect the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest. Limited finances, inadequate expertise and poor governance practices will all lead to lax enforcement. These in turn will result in the failure to attain the vision and goals of the upcoming Master Plan.
- I am pleased to note that present at this conference are two experts who will be imparting their experiences in developing sustainable rainforest park management plans in the Amazon and Costa Rica.
- It is my hope that local stakeholders will be receptive to ideas from outside our borders. I also hope that this conference will spur a tripartite alliance between the government, both local and federal, the corporate sector and non-governmental organisations. The local community must be empowered to involve themselves in the developments that are set to take place in Belum-Temengor. They must be prepared to take advantage of economic and employment opportunities spilling over from the tourism and research activities in the area.
- I congratulate the organisers, the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA), the Perak state government and the Pulau Banding Foundation for spearheading the preparation of this Integrated Master Plan for the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest. It is my hope that it will help towards the development of a comprehensive plan of action – one that is enforceable and effective – one born out of genuine partnership between all stakeholders.
- I wish you fruitful discussions over the next two days. To those from out of town, I hope you enjoy your stay in this city.
- It now gives me great pleasure to officially declare open the Conference Towards the Development of an Integrated Master Plan for the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest.