Environmental groups want further study on ECRL impact

Prime Minister Najib Razak (centre) and other leaders during the East Coast Rail Link groundbreaking in Kuantan yesterday. Environmental organisations have voiced concern that the challenges presented by natural habitats along the rail link's route have not been taken into account in the planning of the project. – The Malaysian Insight pic, August 10, 2017.

ENVIRONMENTAL groups are urging for a moratorium on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and further evaluation to be carried out over concerns that “environmentally sensitive areas” along its route would be impacted.

Malaysian Nature Society, Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia, and Treat Every Environment Special, in a joint statement today, called on the government to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the massive project, involving state agencies, environmental organisations, research institutions, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders.

“We are concerned that ECRL will traverse the Central Forest Spine (CFS), as well as coastal forest areas, wetlands and rivers.

“All these are part of sensitive and interconnected ecosystems, and home to many endangered and rare wildlife species, including tigers, elephants, tapirs and sun bears.”

Yesterday, Prime Minster Najib Razak officiated at the ECRL groundbreaking in Kuantan.

ECRL is set to become the nation’s longest rail project, with a total 688km of rail link, at a cost of RM55 billion, to be built by China Communications Construction Company Ltd.

The environmental groups said it was vital to protect areas along the link’s route as they provided 90% of the nation’s water supply, aided in local climate control and flood mitigation, and protected irreplaceable biodiversity.

“We recognise that the government has made efforts to mitigate and minimise the environmental impact of the project, including building underground tunnels and viaducts.

“ECRL will still cut through forests, causing fragmentation, and this is contrary to the CFS master plan, which seeks to connect all fragmented forest areas.

“We understand that the project will be fenced off for safety purposes. However, this will affect the movement of wildlife.

“We are also worried about the effects of noise pollution on wildlife during the project’s construction.”

 The groups also voiced concern that the challenges presented by natural habitats had not been factored in, including the construction of the rail link through Melaleuca swamps in Terengganu and Kelantan.

“These swamps are subject to flood and fire during the wet and dry seasons, and construction in these areas should be avoided.

“There is a need for a wildlife management plan before construction begins.

“We are concerned that if such a plan already exists, it was drawn up without consulting stakeholders.”

The groups added that they were worried about whether the project would lead to a huge infrastructure debt for the country.

“We ask that the federal government provide more information on the project’s loan repayment, its impact and whether the project is going to create huge infrastructure debt.” – August 10, 2017.

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