Home Web Specials 2011 Web Specials The lies that mask Sarawak deforestation

The lies that mask Sarawak deforestation

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An image of northern Belaga, based on Google Earth, shows the extent of deforestation in Sarawak — and gives the lie to claims that native people are responsible for deforestation due to shifting cultivation, says our correspondent.

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Further on deforestation in Sarawak, the image above of part of northern Belaga, based on Google Earth, shows the extent of deforestation in Sarawak — and gives the lie to claims that native people are responsible for deforestation due to shifting cultivation. It also indicates that the image in Google Earth is close to being 10 years out of date.

On shifting cultivation, the spot marked “Uma Sambop” is the longhouse settlement of the Kenyah Sambop at Long Semutut, about 80 households, on the Belaga River. They have been in this locality for at least a hundred years, yet it is clear from the image that their footprint has been tiny. Indeed, it would be possible to miss them altogether in this image if one didn’t know they were there.

What the image doesn’t show is that much more than indicated has been cleared for oil palm. Thus, the area between the spot marked “ASSAR Urun OP” and “Shin Yang Penyuan OP” has been largely cleared and is now part of Shin Yang’s oil palm plantation. Most of the area to the east and in a southeasterly direction from the spot marked “Seping-Mali confluence” all the way down to the Plieran River (not shown in the image) has also been cleared for oil palm and industrial tree plantation, the only bits of forest left being tiny islands on the tops of hills and hill ranges. This is part of the area covered by the Suhakam report of 2007 on the Penan of Belaga.

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The image also doesn’t indicate the extent of destruction caused by logging. For instance, the area across the Belaga River from the “ASSAR Urun OP” has also not only been cleared for oil palm, but even the foothills of the steep Dulit Range, separating Belaga from the Tinjar, has been savagely logged, into the lower reaches of the Dulit. Moreover, as can be seen, there are at least two logging roads right on top of the Dulit Range, the range itself being an almost sheer rise of a few hundred metres.

The area south of the Bintulu-Bakun road has also been cleared for oil palm, partly by KTS-Pesaka and partly by Sarawak Oil Palm (SOP), a Shin Yang-LCDA joint venture.

Indeed, in most of these areas, one literally cannot see the forest for the trees. A low helicopter pass allows one to count trees in between the patches of red-brown.

As for development: well, ASSAR, i.e., Amanah Saham Sarawak, was so generous as to recognise that part of the area that went to them was customary rights land. So, they are paying dividends to the Penan and Kenyah at Long Urun — amounting to RM30 a month a person.

The database put up on Sarawakreport.org (the one without the ‘s’) also provides support for this. For instance, the first six items amounting to over 80,000 hectares for oil palm refer largely to the area shown in the image here.

By the way, this also gives the lie to Peter Chin’s claims that no forests have been cleared for oil palm. Every single one of those six lots was primary forest 30 years ago. Indeed, some of them were still primary forest only 15 years ago.

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This also gives the lie to all claims about selective or sustainable logging — for, if indeed these areas were sustainably logged, what would be the sense of converting them to plantation, and where would the EIAs find grounds to claim that the forest is so degraded that they might as well be converted? Yes: check the EIAs for plantations and the almost invariable reason is that the forest is badly degraded with little chance for recovery – which would not be the case if they were sustainably and selectively logged.

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