Planning for Resource Sustainability

NATURAL RESOURCE HUSBANDRY: Gaps in the country’s database on natural resource need to be updated for long term strategic planning for maintenance and sustenance of our environment

IT may be  superfluous and  late to comment on the  water supply condition in some parts of the country. Some areas are experiencing water rationing. The matter is part of a bigger issue of the need to efficiently manage our natural resources, forestry and water resources, in particular.

Malaysia is blessed with ample natural resources, which have to be managed well with the strong concern for our posterity and ecological balance. A society that cares for sustainability of its natural resource endowment will be assured of its source of wealth in the future.

Several parts of Africa suffer from poverty and starvation consequent upon environmental decay and unrestrained exploitation of its forest resources. Much of their traditional lands have become barren or infertile.

To that extent we have policies for reaforestation, replanting and preservation of permanent forest reserves to ensure sustainability of our environment. Some areas in forest reserves are meant to be catchment areas for rain. However, the occurrence of dry spells now and the decline of water level in some reservoirs indicate that imbalances could have occurred.

The balancing formula might have been compromised arising from unlicensed felling or rapid felling for planting commercial crops or for commercial and housing projects.

The strict balance between the needs for licensed felling, tree crop cultivation, forest reserves and maintenance of catchment areas must be maintained and observed at all times.

The authorities must examine this situation often to ensure that they are not breached or that they are reviewed regularly for new standards to ensure that society is not caught with a less optimal situation for its long-term survival.

Who is doing it?

In this country, the whole matter and issues relating to natural resources-land, rivers, minerals, hills and mountains, and beaches are under the purview of state governments. As these matters affect all of us directly, the Federal Government is given the task of setting up national land and forest councils to ensure coordination and cooperation in managing such assets.

Any long-term impairment of our natural environment will affect our lives directly and indirectly. Cooperation among all is most critical.

This is one concern of federalism or federal-state relations that has to be nurtured and preserved. Environmental maintenance is a public good and must be delivered for the benefit of all. It should never be compromised under any pretext.

The appetite of private sector operators for profit may sometimes convince the authorities to accede to their requests for land by offering a trade off of lesser value. Many a time this exchange does not lead to optimum social choice. Our lack of in-depth public debate on a public matter may lead us to a less appropriate decision.

This matter can also be a source of irritation, especially when some states intend to fell forests to beef up their state revenue and sustain state expenses.

It will, therefore, be the duty of the Federal Government to compensate the states if the latter have to reserve part of their forests for the benefit of all in the federation.

Now that the water issue is still a hot matter, it is cue enough to invest in policy analysis, public debate and forum on water supply conditions in this country to raise enough concerns for long-term water resource planning in the country and to even to revisit the federal-state division of power on natural resource husbandry within the federation.

It is so important a matter that political and short term interests have to be set aside for the long- term good of the country.

In this regard, Singapore, which used to import potable water from Johor since the agreement in 1961, is now importing raw water and is, instead, selling treated water to Johor Baru for household consumption.

This is a clear case of what long-term strategic scenario planning is all about. You convert your limitation into strength.

At this point of time, senior civil servants must take the lead in articulating the need for critical long-term natural resource planning for the country. For a start, there may be gaps in our data base on natural resources, which need to be updated. When was the last agricultural census that we had initiated? Was it in the 1970s? When was the last land use map and report undertaken? Was it Bill Panton’s study for the Economic Planning Unit in early 1970s? I am not sure. Society has so much to do and deliver for its posterity. It, therefore, cannot afford the luxury of political bickering, lest we may derail much of our basic responsibility.

There must be balance between the need for licensed felling, tree-crop cultivation, forest reserves and maintenance of catchment areas.

Source :  New Straits Times 

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