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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Tasik Chini risks losing Unesco status, according to report

 

Years of rampant mining and logging along its shores have poisoned the waters at Tasik Chini and stripped away swathes of natural habitat. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia has just two months to inform Unesco on how it plans to nurse Tasik Chini and its surrounding areas back to health, or risk having the site stripped of its biosphere reserve status.

According to Unesco’s first periodical review of the lake released recently, Tasik Chini no longer meets the criteria to be part of their World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).

However, Unesco has given the Malaysian authorities until Sept 30 to inform the world body on how it plans to nurse Tasik Chini and its surrounding wetlands back to health.

Otherwise, the site will be stripped of its biosphere status, according to a special report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

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The Hong Kong-based daily said the freshwater lake, Malaysia’s second largest, and its surrounding wetlands were recognised by Unesco in 2009 as the country’s first “biosphere reserve” – sites where sustainable development is supposed to be practised to protect their fragile ecosystems.

“Tasik Chini occupies a special place in Malaysia’s national psyche. Steeped in legend, the vast body of water in central Pahang is rumoured to contain an ancient sunken city, and be inhabited by a mythical “dragon god” that makes its home among the watery depths,” it said.

“But Tasik Chini is now in danger of losing that status, after years of rampant mining and logging along its shores have poisoned the water and stripped away swathes of natural habitat.”

Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman, a field officer for Friends of the Earth Malaysia, said its warnings about the lake were repeatedly ignored by the Pahang state government, which did not reply to the group’s letters or return their phone calls.

“That was until Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah, the current regent of Pahang, made a surprise visit to the lake in June last year and decreed that its surrounding forest reserve should be expanded to 9,147ha from the previous 6,922ha and all mining operations should cease.

“Since then, we have been officially invited to several tree replanting efforts, which have been plentiful recently,” he told SCMP.

The daily added that there seemed to be no coordination with the forestry department and the land office both acting independently of each other, and decisions being made by people “who are far away”.

Mushrifah Idris, a former head of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s (UKM) Tasik Chini Research Centre, was one of many environmentalists sounding the alarm on the lake’s degraded state as far back as 2019, according to SCMP.

“But the authorities showed little interest in doing anything until recently, after it emerged that Unesco was considering stripping the site of its status,” it said.

The daily said Mushrifah was instrumental, as leader of the research centre, to Tasik Chini being listed by the United Nation’s heritage agency in the first place. And she remains hopeful that the years of neglect and damage can be reversed.

“Rehabilitation, restoration, and conservation is never too late, but it takes a while,” she said. - FMT

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