Is there Something I Can Do to Make a Difference?

Malaysia is destroying its forests more than three times faster than all of Asia combined, new satellite imagery has shown, with demand for palm oil the reason for the clearance. A report commissioned by the Netherlands-based Wetlands International says Malaysia is uprooting an average two per cent of the rainforest a year on Sarawak, its largest state on the island of Borneo, or nearly 10 per cent over the last five years. Most of it is being converted to palm oil plantations, it said. The deforestation rate for all of Asia during the same period was 2.8 per cent. In the last five years, 872,263 acres of Malaysia’s peatlands were deforested, or one-third of the swamps which have stored carbon from decomposed plants for millions of years. We never knew exactly what was happening in Malaysia and Borneo,” said Alex Kaat, spokesman for Wetlands International. “Now we see there is a huge expansion (of deforestation) with annual rates that are beyond imagination.” The study was carried out by SarVision, a satellite monitoring and mapping company that originated with scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “Total deforestation in Sarawak is 3.5 times as much as that for entire Asia, while deforestation of peat swamp forest is 11.7 times as much,” the report said. Malaysia’s peatland forests are home to several endangered animals, including the Borneo pygmy elephant and the Sumatran rhino, as well as rare timber species and unique vegetation. Mr Kaat said the study showed deforestation was progressing far faster than the Malaysian government has acknowledged.

The above excerpt and image was taken from an article in the UK Telegraph.

News like this really saddens me. I mean, its not like I don’t already know this is happening, but to see it being confirmed by satellite images and thorough research, breaks my heart. I remember sitting in wooden longboats, gliding up the rivers deep in the forests of Sarawak in Borneo, listening to the sounds of chirping cicadas and cooing birds… it was paradise. But I also remember, the droning of chainsaws breaking the monotony of the sounds of nature. I have seen, with my own eyes, how the Ibans (aboriginals in Sarawak) have been exploited by large corporations to bring down their own forests, all for a measly salary.

Illegal logging and large scale deforestation to clear the land for oil palm plantations and to build unnecessary dams – It’s unsustainable, and it’s been happening for a long time. The aboriginal tribes who live off the forest are being displaced with no compensation. There are allegations that aboriginal women are being raped by workers from the logging and oil palm companies. While the Penans and Ibans continue to fight for their rights, for their land, and for their sons and daughters, the rest of Malaysia closes its eyes and ears. The government doesn’t care, because they are the ones who reap most of the benefits. In fact, most of these logging and oil palm companies are owned by or have links to the family and cronies of the Chief Minister in Sarawak. The judicial courts dare not listen to the pleas of the oppressed, because their only role is to serve the will of their political masters. That is why the Penans and the Ibans will never get a fair trial.

What makes it more unfortunate is that people living in other countries know more about what is happening in Sarawak than ordinary Malaysians. The government’s control on the media is so tight that such news never reaches the ears of the public. Even if they know about it, they either couldn’t care less, or are too fearful to do anything about it. And while Malaysians carry on with life as usual, it is the British, the Americans, the Europeans, and the Australians etc. that are fighting for the rights of our fellow Malaysians. They are the ones who are giving voice to the Penans, the Ibans, the Orang Utans, the cicadas and the teak trees in Borneo. I tip my hat off to them, the likes of Gordon Brown’s sister in law, Clare Rewcastle Brown, who dare stand up to the corrupt Chief Minister of Sarawak. Their efforts have been reported in the media recently. Read more here. I also know some of my Australian friends boycott products that contain palm oil as an ingredient, although I’m not too sure about the effectiveness of such an action. I have nothing against the oil palm industry. Its just that it needs to be sustainable.

But the question that has been lingering in my own mind for the last couple of months is this: Is there something that I can do to make a difference?

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