Taken from Malaysiakini.com
Fauwaz Abdul Aziz | Jun 11, 08 4:39pm
Is the PAS-led Kedah government now a champion of BN-initiated projects in the state despite previously branding its political rivals as socially and environmentally disastrous?
This is the question now on the minds of local communities and a dozen rural, environmental and social grassroots organisations in Kedah following the state government’s U-turn on several key developments.
According to environmental group Sahabat Alam Malaysia’s (SAM), the new state government was carrying out the same ‘destructive legacy’ of the previous BN administration in approving or announcing projects without any proper consultation, let alone the consent of local stakeholders.
Nor has it made public the projects’ environmental and social impact assessments and costs-benefits analyses, said SAM coordinator Nizam Mahshar.
“Failure to carry out such steps, among others, were the main causes of the intense environmental degradation and social conflicts suffered by the common people in Kedah and contributed to BN’s loss in March’s general elections,” he stressed.
Among the groups’ major worries is the planned billion-ringgit Kedah Hydrocarbon Hub, formerly known as the Yan Petroleum Industry Zone (Zipy).
The mega-project - which PAS leaders in Kedah have previously objected to because of its possible impact on the maritime ecosystem and the social dislocations for its population - now is apparently kosher to the new PAS government.
The RM83 billion project will set-up oil refineries and construct a 320-kilometer pipeline stretching from Yan to Bachok in Kelantan. This project cost is RM33 billion more than what the BN previously said it was going to cost.
This is because of a decision taken in late March to build the refineries on a 360 hectares island that will be made from reclaimed land off the coast of Yan district.
On March 29, Kedah industry, investment, science and innovation, and entrepreneur development committee chairperson Amiruddin Hamzah disclosed that the state government will earn about RM200 million a year from the hub once it is up and running.
This led to former Menteri Besar Mahdzir Khalid to point out PAS’ change of position given the party’s previous objection to the project when it was first mooted. PAS feared the potential environmental damage and threat posed to the socio-economic interests of the local fishing community.
“PAS is (now) singing a different tune,” Mahdzir was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.
Leukemia and deformities
In a ‘Kedah Peoples’ Declaration’ released yesterday in Alor Star, SAM and 13 other groups called for the Kedah Hydrocarbon Hub plan to be scrapped because of the harmful side-effects of petrochemical industrial activities and the land reclamation necessary.
Study results as stated in the declaration show increased risk of chronic diseases for communities living in the vicinity of petroleum-based industrial activities due to the emission of hydrocarbons such as xylene, benzene and vinyl chloride.
Research carried out in China and Taiwan presented data that those living near petrochemical industrial areas are more prone to leukemia or having babies born prematurely or with deformities.
Citing several incidences of oil spills that have occurred in different parts of the world, the groups also warned of the disaster and destruction to the environment should an oil spill occur at the Kedah Hydrocarbon Hub.
The reclamation of land and the destruction of mangrove forests on the coast for the pipeline, they said further, would permanently change the maritime ecosystem of the area and effect the fishing industry on which the local communities are dependent.
The arrival of large ships in the area carrying crude oil to the refineries and to the pipeline would also have an effect on fishermen plying their trade in the area, they added.
“This is not a baseless concerned, but has already occurred to fishing communities in, for example, Tanjung Piai, Johor,” according to the declaration.
The groups urged the state government to withhold from issuing any statements on the project before the communities had been consulted, a costs-benefits analysis had been carried out, the local structure plan had been referred to, and the environmental impact and strategic assessments completed.
Despite have raised these issues with the present government, PAS seems intent on carrying out its plans, said Che Ani Mat Zain, whose farmers’ group belonging to the Muda Agriculture Development Authority scheme is a declaration signatory.
Dumb and deaf
“The state government seems not to understand the relationship between the environment and our social welfare... They seem to be dumb and deaf (to our grievances),” said Che Ani.
Another major reason for the groups’ disappointment with the state government is its failure to close the quarrying and logging projects in Singkir at Gunung Jerai and Sungai Ilir in Bandar Bharu despite PAS leaders’ previous promises to do so should the party take over the reins of government.
Present Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak was among those who had voiced his opposition to the Singkir quarry and logging activities, which local villagers have claimed led to unprecedented floods in the area.
“The elected representatives and exco members from Pakatan Rakyat have not shown any interest in fulfilling the election pledges, among others, to stop the destructive quarry projects,” said head of the action committee opposing the Singkir quarry Jamil Mohd Ali.
“Phone calls made by the communities and NGOs to these elected representatives, who once hunted us for support and information while they were the opposition and during the elections, now remain unanswered,” added Jamil.
The groups also asked how the state government will deal with issues raised by local groups regarding the protection of water catchment areas, the introduction of genetically-modified organisms (GMO) in farming and other issues affecting farmers, the welfare of fishing communities, the Trans-Eastern Kedah Hinterland Highway, and the destruction of mangrove swamps.
“With all the questionable policy statements made and the state government’s lack of interest in addressing current environmental problems in Kedah, the fate of the environment in Kedah will remain dark,” said Aziz Man, who heads a rural residents’ advocacy group.
“The sustainable development agenda remains ignored by the new state government,” he added.
Bukit Uhud anyone? You judge yourself. PAS must do better than this.