if we in Perak have a great appreciation of our clear drinking water compare than kelang valley, we must act now to prevent logging in area known as Belum-Temenggor Forest in upriver part of Sungai Perak. If this area are loggeg extensivly, our water will be history also!
Belum Rainforest Project
The River Perak in Peninsular Malaysia has a deep significance in the history of the Malay people and their Sultans. This area of Upper Perak is also of huge significance in our planet’s prehistory and the origins of man. Nowadays its upper reaches are living testimony of the primordial might of creation in all its diversity. Its sheer beauty and bio-diversity are awesome. Most of it is unexplored. This is the ancient forest of Belum.
After the fall of Melaka in 1511 the Perak river provided safe haven and a power base to the Malay Sultans for subsequent generations up to the present day. The sources of the mighty river Perak and the Belum forest are an emotive symbol of Malay history. The age of the Belum forest dates from between 7-10 million years. During the ice age South East Asia was a huge continent the size of India and together with the rest of the tropical belt was the only region in the world habitable by man with a relatively comfortable temperature of 22-25 degrees centigrade. When the ice melted sea levels rose hundreds of meters leaving what is now Indonesia and Peninsular Malaysia in the form of isolated islands. 'Perak Man' is one of the oldest discoveries of the traces of 'original' man on the planet. Rocks found in Belum date from 600 million years, which in geological terms is very, very old. The oldest are 2 billion years old and have been discovered in only two places in the world.
The “not yet” forest
Nowadays in the face of industrial development with its continuing devastation of the natural order, the upper reaches of the Perak river provide safe haven and a last resort for this primeval forest, its wild life, its intricate ecosystems, as well as for two indigenous tribes of Orang Asli (indigenous people), the Jahai and the Temiar. This is the forest called Belum. The very name in Malay means “not yet”. It is one of the oldest remaining tropical rain forests in the world. It is little explored and remains an undisturbed lush wilderness and a treasure house of flora and fauna: Elephants, tigers, “Sumatran” rhinoceros, gibbons, more than 300 species of birds including some species unique to Belum, and countless species of insects, lizards and other reptiles. In one place alone there are more than 200 species of orchids. Expeditions undertaken by the Malaysian Nature Society never fail to return with scores of new recordings of hitherto unknown species. There are animals which are not expected to fly, but fly they do under the forest’s canopy in Belum. There are places where firefly congregations make Millennium firework displays look like amateur dramatics.
The area of the Belum forest of more than 200,000 hectares is situated on the backbone of Central Northern peninsular Malaysia rising to the heights of the Titiwangsa range of mountains. The forest includes the upper reaches and sources of the Perak River basin extending to the north as far as Southern Thailand and into the state of Kelantan to the east. There are mountains, rivers and lakes. It is a vast panorama of breathtaking beauty seething with a kaleidoscope of all forms of life. (Ab)original man, the orang asli, and the wildest of rare and noble creatures co-exist in primitive majesty. Belum with its undisturbed history of millions of years constitutes a vital and irreplaceable link with history and prehistory, living testimony to millions of years of undisturbed natural development. It is indeed a memory of the original Garden of Eden itself. To conserve and study it takes on a special urgency in these times of global warming and the disappearance of species.
Subsequent to concern from environmentalists, the State Government of Perak was persuaded to designate the forest a State Park in 2002. But then recently it has been seeking huge capital investments in order to finance and develop a “sophisticated range” of tourist possibilities in the forest together with the necessary infrastructure. Concept and construction of extensive tourist facilities are envisaged to accommodate the expected large numbers of high paying tourists and “eco-tourists”. Of course, investors, if found, will want their money back plus profits. Environmentalists view this as a serious threat to the long term survival of the Belum Forest and say that it should be left to its own majestic devices.
The prospect of fast money in rapidly developing Malaysia, be it for urban, industrial or tourist development, only serves to sharpen the cutting edge of the chainsaws and to roll out more bulldozers and cement mixers. Tourism is the thin edge of the wedge that precedes further and more intense development. Where, for instance, are all those guides, servants, cooks, and managers, the people who cater to the tourists’ needs, supposed to stay? Of course, they too need houses close to their work. By this time virgin forest can already be redefined as “real estate”. By the end of the decade a concrete jungle complete with roads and infrastructure, houses and offices, night clubs and restaurants, police stations, fire headquarters and administrative offices will have replaced the tropical jungle.
It is disappointing that in Malaysia the Belum forest is valued only for its timber and tourist revenues. Scientists are warning that in a few years hundreds, thousands, maybe more than a million species will have disappeared from the face of the earth. Up to a quarter of all the species in the world will have gone by 2050. Lost and gone for ever and we will never even know of their existence nor their qualities, benefits to mankind, or their role in the ecosystem.
Humankind has to know that the wildernesses including the tropical rainforests are still there. They are part of us and are a reminder of our own primordial history. Without them man himself is lost and without bearings like a ship in the ocean without a rudder or base port. Quite apart from the issue of forests being 'carbon sinks' absorbing much of the industrial carbon emissions contributing to global warming, the most valuable commodity that the tropical rainforest has to offer mankind as a whole is knowledge: knowledge of species, the climate and of ourselves. Indigenous peoples still know much that modern man has long since forgotten.
Weapons of mass destruction
Modern logging constitutes a virtual military attack on the tropical forests. Illegal (and ‘legal’) logging operations are equivalent to terrorist attacks and should be dealt with accordingly. Machines known as feller bunchers are the forest’s equivalent of whale factory ships which scour the oceans on missions of mass murder. One such weapon of mass destruction can clear over a hectare of forest a day, felling and stacking 15 tonnes of timber an hour. In spite of claims of 'sustainable' forestry practices, trees in fact are not replaced, while many specimens are irreplaceable. The hunger of world markets for valuable hardwood constitutes a blatant temptation to logging companies and politicians, who hand out the logging concessions, to cut down trees for quick cash. The oceans have already gone this way with their nations of whales, sea mammals and fish stocks almost to the point of extinction. Loggers routinely buy the complicity of officials in turning a blind eye to their operations in the forest.
Lower Belum is now being logged intensively. I recently counted a lorry (carrying 32 tons) leaving lower Belum (the Temengor Forest Reserve) every five minutes. At this rate the entire Temengor Forest Reserve will be logged within ten years. Thousands of years of natural development will have been destroyed in a single decade.
Upper Belum is a militarily restricted area and largely remains intact, vulnerable to illegal loggers only. To take up the cry for the whales “Stop the bloody logging!” Of course, it’s not just the trees. It’s the entire ecosystem together with its microclimate and eventual effect on the global climate...for the forests will have the last word and revenge in their absence when they become deserts.
Stop the Silvicide now!
The myth of “sustainable” logging itself is largely a sweet-sounding ploy concocted by the exploiters of forest reserves. “Culling” is the ocean’s equivalent euphemism for the mass destruction of whales. Moreover, “silvicide” is invariably accompanied by the genocide of those people whose abode is the tropical forest since time immemorial. The destruction of ancient forests is like the burning of Baghdad’s priceless libraries and museums. Belum’s natural antiquities must not be destroyed.
The Malaysian context
The increasing demand for land in a rapidly industrialising Malaysia presents an irresistible temptation to urban developers for quick money. Urban and industrial development constitutes the ultimate tyranny on the land and integrity of the forest. In Belum this must be prevented at all cost. Once begun there is little one can do to stop it. Tourism is only the thin end of the wedge.
For some fifty years the Ministry of Defence has been the main factor in the protection of the Belum Forest. It has been a military exclusive zone since the days of the communist insurgency and has been used for military counter terrorist exercises. Consequently since this time the general public has not had access to the forest. But illegal loggers seem to. I counted some 30 new logging trails into the forest from the East-West Highway during the past two years. The government turns a blind eye or claims that it is too expensive for fully effective surveillance and that in any case it is in the jurisdiction of the military authorities.
During the communist insurgency of the fifties the infamous 'bamboo trail' ran through the forest of Belum. This was a supply line similar to the Ho Chi Minh trail in neighbouring Viet Nam which supplied the communists with weapons and munitions. There are still within the forest a number of minefields laid by the Malaysian armed forces during the time of the insurgency. The presence of these minefields acts as a deterrent to would-be intruders, illegal loggers and the like, unless “illegal” loggers are tipped off by the military for a price. Army salaries are never that good!
The state government admits that illegal logging has been going on. By way of surveillance the State government has offered annual aerial surveys. Clearly this is derisively inadequate and promises only to record the annual rate of destruction. In order to prevent the intrusions of illegal loggers and poachers (mostly from Thailand) a comprehensive surveillance system is needed.
So this is what the Belum Rainforest Project proposes. A network of cameras is to be deployed in the forest of Belum. Linked to a satellite dish situated inside the forest, the forest will become an interactive digital television station. A subscriber to a 'Belum channel', which would be as available in a satellite package as Sky, Discovery, BBC World, Jazeera, CNN, etc will be able to 'surf' interactively from camera to camera in Belum. This will be as much for surveillance as for educational purposes. Universities can sponsor cameras for specific research programmes. Thus the Forest itself becomes Satellite TV channel, teaching resource and University of Biodiversity research. The most valuable resource of the tropical rainforest is knowledge. Botanists, zoologists, anthropologists, geologists, climatologists, etc all have much to research and learn from this cradle of creation, Belum, before it is too late.
The Belum Rainforest Project team is studying the technical aspects of installing and linking cameras into an integrated system for interactive satellite transmission. The State government of Perak is amenable to the project but does not have the money to do it. There is little popular concern for the environment in developing Malaysia. Everyone is too busy with making more money than it was hitherto possible. Meanwhile the logging continues.
The only solution is to internationalize the project. First the logging must cease and only international concern can stop it. There are three words that symbolise survival of the planet. They are tropical-rain-forest. Let us conserve this cradle of creation as a symbol of hope, give the scientists a treat and allow our children to learn from the treasures of the Belum Rainforest.
In principle, it should be the forest itself that dictates the ways in which it is to be conserved and maintained. What man should do is watch and learn before it is too late. The forest has its own rules. It has been developing itself for millions of years and does not need to be told how best to develop. All man can do is to forbid access to those who would do the forest harm and alter its natural development.
But you can also help. Write a letter to the Sultan requesting him to “put his royal foot down” and to defend the forest once and for all, to stop the terrorist loggers, to keep the intruders and developers out . . . and say “Not yet (Belum), Forever!”
For more information about the Belum Rainforest Project contact: