Sunday, July 26, 2015

Malaysia's indigenous hit hard by deforestation

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Malaysia's indigenous hit hard by deforestation

The clear-cutting of forests is thought to 

have played a role in Malaysia's worst 

flooding in decades.

Logging and deforestation in Malaysia's forests is threatening the way of life of the indigenous populations and causing environmental catastrophes [Jarni Blakkarly/Al Jazeera]
Kuala Wok, Malaysia - High up in the remote 
mountain jungles of Malaysia's eastern state of Kelantan, massive 
deforestation and the 
country's worst flood in decades have left indigenous tribes reeling.
In the village of Kuala Wok, the Temiar people's Sewang ceremony 
is held to worship and seek guidance from the spirits and nature, and 
forms an important part of their religion and culture.
During the colourful ceremony the women beat bamboo instruments 
in rhythm, while the village head leads a group of men through chants, 
prayers and dances that increase in intensity over several hours. Many 
experience violent convulsions during the dance, which they attribute 
to spirits possessing them.
Temiar people hold a Sewang ceremony to seek guidance from the
spirits and nature [Jarni Blakkarly/Al Jazeera] 
The Temiar place a high value on respecting the environment and its 
destruction by outsiders is threatening their way of life.
The logging businesses have long had a presence in the region's expansive
 jungles, but the rate of deforestation has increased in the past decade as 
private companies clear-cut the forests.
Ussain Bin Anjang told Al Jazeera that this deforestation was making 
indigenous communities' traditional way of life difficult to maintain.
"They are logging close to the water source, so in dry season the river 
dries up. There is much less water than before. Sometimes it is 
contaminated and people get sick. We can't hunt, and it's very difficult 
to get our traditional medicine or gather food from the forest," he said. 
Rivers run dry and food sources are threatened as a result of persistent
logging, threatening the way of life for the indigenous people living in
Malaysia's forests [Jarni Blakkarly/Al Jazeera] 
Indigenous peoples' claims of ownership to their land are rarely 
acknowledged by the Malaysian government when it decides to grant 
logging concessions to private companies.
Clearing the forests
From a vantage point high up in the mountains, the scale of the destruction 
is striking. Bald hills stretch as far as the eye can see.
According to a 2012 study by the University of Maryland using Google Maps 
data,Malaysia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world.
 Most of the land is cleared for palm oil or rubber plantations, which have 
played a major role in Malaysia's economic growth. After decades of rapid 
development, the country is now one of the richest in the region.
While those in Kuala Wok have been told by local contractors that 3,000
hectares of land will be left to them after the logging, no formal contract has
been signed - and already, the entire area surrounding the villages has been
Malaysia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world with
most of the forests being cleared for palm oil or rubber plantations
[Jarni Blakkarly/Al Jazeera]
The same University of Maryland study estimated that the state of 
Kelantan lost around 15 percent of its natural forest between 2001
and 2012.
According to the CIA World Factbook almost 12 percent of Malaysia's 
population belongs to one of dozens of indigenous ethnic groups, each 
with their own individual language and culture. Most indigenous 
Malaysians live in the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. 
The term Orang Asli is used to refer to the various indigenous tribes 
of peninsular Malaysia. The roughly 180,000 Orang Asli make up 
less than one percent of the country's population.
The Malaysian government have long sought to remove the  
Orang Asli identity by categorising them as members of the dominant 
Malay ethnic group. The government also promises basic infrastructure 
projects such as housing, electricity and roads as an incentive for villages 
to convert from their traditional animist beliefs to Islam, the dominant 
religion in the country.
The indigenous populations of Malaysia constitute only one percent of
the population and mainly live in the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the
 island of Borneo. They complain that the government mainly ignores their
rights to the land they inhabit [Jarni Blakkarly/Al Jazeera]
'The government closes their eyes'
Youth indigenous leader Dendi, who only goes by one name, told Al Jazeera 
that logging and plantations had destroyed many sites of sacred religious 
importance and that local graves had been desecrated.
Local indigenous customs require that the dead be buried along with their 
possessions. Al Jazeera was shown areas where the remains of clothes and 
other possessions could be seen after the earth was dug up for plantations.
"Sometimes the government close their eyes, close their ears. They don't 
care about Orang Asli," Dendi told Al Jazeera.
"When all the forest is gone, how will the small children know about the 
stories? They won't know about how to use the forest to provide, how to 
go hunting maybe next year or another year, when everything's destroyed," 
he said.
The logging not only threatens the livelihood of the indigenous people,
but also desecrates their past when the digging takes place at grave-sites
[Jarni Blakkarly/Al Jazeera]
Many environmental activists and some scientists believe deforestation 
was a contributing factor to the size of the flooding that hit the region in 
December last year, killing 23 people and forcing more than 200,000 
from their homes. While flooding is an annual occurrence, December's 
floods were the worst on record in Malaysia for 30 years.
"If you don't respect the forest, this is what happens," Dendi told 
Al Jazeera.
Villages higher up in the mountains were cut off from the outside 
world for a month due to landslides, but were spared the worst of the 
flooding. Those living further down in the valley, however, were not
 so lucky.
Slow rebuilding effort
The Malaysian government has promised millions of dollars for 
infrastructure repairs, housing and aid. However, more than two 
months since the floods, there were few signs of reconstruction in 
the Gua Musang region, one of the worst affected by the flooding, 
when Al Jazeera visited in February.
Whole families who lost houses in the floods can be seen huddled 
together along the highway, either in makeshift camps of bamboo 
and tarpaulins, provided by the Malaysian government, in tents from 
international aid organisations such as Rotary, or donated by the
 Chinese government.
The scale of deforestation has changed the consistency of the land
causing landslides and flooding during the rainy season
 [Jarni Blakkarly/Al Jazeera]
There is a lack of information on the ground, and villages don't
know when or even if their houses will be rebuilt. The fact that
many indigenous people do not own formal deeds to their land
may prove to be an obstacle to receiving compensation or financial
assistance to rebuild.
Mohamed Thajudeen bin Abdul Wahab, secretary of the National 
Security Council, the government body that oversaw the response, 
told Al Jazeera that the government's response and rescue operations 
had kept casualty numbers low, despite many people not following 
the instructions to evacuate before the floodwaters rose.
"There has been no major issue in aid delivery. In fact, there was an
 overabundance in supply of food sources. It is not true that people 
didn't receive enough help," Thajudeen said.
He explained that the Malaysian government would not rebuild houses 
along riverbank areas due to the risk of future flooding, and that the 
reconstruction of 400 houses was already under way, with the work to 
be completed by June.
"Being poor, most of them are squatters and do not own land," said Thajudeen.
"They were squatting on land not belonging to them. As such again, the 
government couldn't rebuild these houses. As land was a state matter, not a 
federal matter, the federal government [has] had to wait for the state 
government to identify suitable land for reconstruction of these houses."
Many victims of the devastating floods still live in temporary shelters provided by aid organisations [Jarni Blakkarly/Al Jazeera]
But Colin Nicholas from the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), 
a Malaysia-based non-governmental organisation that assists in legal 
cases and advocates for Orang Asli rights, told Al Jazeera that the 
government had essentially left NGOs to provide services to some 
Orang Asli villages affected by the flooding.
COAC plans to build 28 houses, and has already begun construction in 
the devastated Temiar village of Sintip.
Nicholas said that while the state of Kelantan was one of the worst for 
indigenous land rights and deforestation, the same issues had affected 
indigenous communities across the country for decades.

First the Federal-state govt treated the indigenous people in Kelantan 
with contempt, now the PAS-led govt is even worse - treating them as 
Hadi calls wandering tribe (derogatory term).

Such a ultra religious group treating the real bumiputras of the land 
with contempt. These people are literally displaced from their NCR 
lands by Islamic godly leaders. Such a traversity of justice yet no 
local NGO went to their aid.

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