Penang Forum supports the call by Dato’ Ir Jaseni Maidinsa, the CEO of Perbadanan Belakan Air Pulau Pinang, in his press statement of 29 May 2020, not to resume logging activities in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve area, which is a crucial water catchment for the Muda, Pedu and Ahning dams, which supply water to Kedah, Penang and Perlis.
Besides supplying 96.5%, 80% and 70% of the raw water supply to Kedah, Penang and Perlis respectively, the Ulu Muda catchment is also the main source of irrigation water to the 96,500ha of paddy land within the Muda Agriculture Development Authority (Mada) granary area of Kedah/Perlis, and another 12,800ha of the Integrated Agriculture Development Area (IADA) in Seberang Perai.
These granary areas constitute the largest rice bowl of Malaysia, bringing livelihood to 60,000 farming families and accounting for 48% of the total paddy production in peninsular Malaysia in 2018. Hence, water security provided by the Ulu Muda catchment extends beyond the northwestern peninsular states as it also contributes to food security for Malaysians at large.
It is therefore crucial that the Ulu Muda forests, the largest remaining tracts of forest in Kedah, are maintained in their pristine condition, not only for the sake of water supply but also for other ecosystem services as a carbon sink and home to rare and endangered wildlife species.
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In the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011-15), the Economic Planning Unit (2010) had projected that water demand for both Kedah and Penang would triple over the period 1995-2020. This did not take into account the impacts of global climate change resulting in reduced and greater uncertainty in rainfall, which is already being felt.
Over the past years, a shortage of irrigation water from Ulu Muda during the dry months has already caused delay and reduction in the off-season rice crop area in Mada and the IADA Seberang Perai. Furthermore, with the expected tripling of economic growth in the Northern Corridor Economic Region by 2025 (according to the NCER blueprint) there would be an even more rapidly increasing demand for water supply for Kedah, Penang and Perlis.
Given the critical roles that the Ulu Muda forests play, particularly in providing crucial water supply for agriculture and economic development, it is imperative that all the permanent forest reserves should be gazetted with protection status.
It was reported in the press last year that the Kedah state government was committed to conserving the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve, thereby seeking federal compensation for lost revenue since the state’s revocation of logging permits in Ulu Muda.
It therefore comes as a surprise that the Kedah state government now claims that it has to provide alternative forest area or face compensation to logging companies that had previously been granted logging concessions.
Let not this about-turn of events bring about irreparable damage to the Ulu Muda forest catchment area and the severe repercussions that will befall the wellbeing and economy of the northwestern states of Kedah, Perlis and Penang.