We have already lost one freshwater lake. Let’s not repeat such human folly, urges Mustafa K Anuar.
The second-largest freshwater lake in Malaysia, Tasik Chini in Pahang, is facing impending “death” owing to logging and mining, and consequent water pollution in its vicinity, as revealed by The Malaysian Insight recently.
Tasik Chini, which is second to Tasik Bera in size, was conferred world biosphere reserve status by Unesco in 2009, given that it is home to 87 species of freshwater fish, 189 species of birds, 51 low-forest species, 25 aquatic plants and 15 fresh-water-swamp forest species.
Yet its rich biodiversity and idyllic beauty, which has gained international recognition, does not seem to be able to prevent ecologically destructive human activities in its surroundings.
It is as if these perpetrators are intent on making Tasik Chini another Tasik Mentiga (also in Pahang), which has been pronounced “extinct” due to developments in its vicinity, which, in turn, caused it to dry up.
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The fact that this shameful environmental degradation has been occurring in Pekan district makes a mockery of the National Policy on Biological Diversity 2016-2025, inked in 2016 by the then Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also its MP.
Recognising biological diversity as national heritage and the importance of its conservation are two of the five guiding principles of the policy concerned, which should have made a significant difference to the way we treat our physical environment, particularly the lakes.
There have been efforts to save Tasik Chini and raise awareness over the years about the importance of protecting it by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia scientists, civil society groups and social activists.
However, what seems lacking is the political will of the powers that be to take vital remedial measures.
As a result, the Orang Asli there also have become victims of this senseless polluting of the lake they revere and on which their survival depends.
Tasik Chini is important to the livelihood and culture of 800 indigenous people living in five villages, particularly Kampung Gumum, Kampung Ulu Gumum, Kampung Tanjung Puput, Kampung Light and Kampung Melai, that surround the lake.
The encroachment of loggers and others on the ancestral land of the Orang Asli surrounding the lake has meant the deprivation of food resources and clean water from the lake for the tribes.
The degradation of the lake has brought about a loss of income from local and foreign tourists who have spurned by the now unattractive Tasik Chini.
Indeed, the gains in protecting and conserving the lake are more than financial.
Tasik Chini’s destruction is reminiscent of the way many of us treat with impunity our rivers, catchment areas and seas, clogging them with our household and industrial waste as if they are not part of our collective survival and sustenance.
The loss of Tasik Chini for the Orang Asli communities must be regarded as our collective loss too.
In an era where climate change is no longer a myth supposedly perpetuated by eco-warriors, acts of environmental destruction must be taken seriously by the authorities and concerned Malaysians.
Hopefully, the recent government announcement that it would set up a national biodiversity centre would reinforce its professed commitment towards protecting and raising awareness of biodiversity, among other things.
We have already lost one freshwater lake. Let’s not repeat such human folly at our peril.