Sunday, October 7, 2012

Musa Aman, The Guardian Of The Lost World

Chief Minister Musa Aman


IT worth knowing some historical facts and figures about the natural landscape of one's own home state e.g Sabah, the Land Below The Wind for the sake of general knowledge of that particular place which could in turn be utilized as reference for clarification of doubts about the place in question someday.

Retrospectively, in the late 80's, despite a series of explorative attempts or reconnaissance survey conducted on the ground by earlier Forest Surveyors, none was considered as really successful other than those assigned by The Sabah Foundation Organization, to finally unlock and reveal the mysteries of a Giant Saucer like basin which looked as if it was physically created by the great impact of a gigantic piece of meteorite from outer space hitting the Earth during the Jurassic period 190 million years ago. 

The basin's rims rises 1,500 to 1,900 metres in altitude above sea level, thus making it not possible for human habitation.

This specific spot with such unique topographical features was later named as "The Maliau Basin" derived from the appearance of its natural land formation and characteristic.

The fact is it was unnoticed until 1947 just after the World War Two, when a pilot barely avoided crashing into the steep hills rising from the mist shrouded rainforest jungles, it made its first foray into mass consciousness as entry in The Borneo Bulletin.

The Maliau Basin was part of the original timber concessions granted to Rakyat Berjaya Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Sabah Foundation (Yayasan Sabah), an organization incorporated way back in 1966 through an Enactment of The Sabah State Legislative with the objective of improving the Living Standard and Education of Malaysians in Sabah.

Generally, Yayasan Sabah is responsible for the management of approximately One Million hectares of forest reserve areas in Borneo including those located in the Danum Valley, Maliau Basin and Imbak Canyon with the highest biodiversity in the State.

Geographically, the Maliau Basin is located between the intersecting grid points coordinates of Longtitude 117 Degrees East and Latitude 5 Degrees North pointing to the South Eastern part of the State, engulfing an undulating slopes totalling 588 sq km of spectacular pristine rainforest area with a geological catchment surrounding the Maliau River, which is famous for its exquisite and beautiful scenic natural features of bubbling water flows known as ‘The Majestic 7 Tier Maliau Falls'.

With its own eco-system, the Maliau Basin is homes to various biological life form found nowhere else on earth hence earning it's the name ‘The Lost World'. It may not be an island of dinosaurs but roaming The Lands of The Maliau Basin are rare mammals such as the Clouded Leopard (Neofelis Nebulosa) and the Malayan Sun Bear (Helacartos Malayansus) and over 290 bird species including the Rhinocerous Hornbill (Bucerous Rhinocerous) and White Crested Hornbill (Bevenicornis Comatus).

Within its enclave lies unusual forest types including the rare Montane Health Forest and distinctive flora with over 1,800 species plants being identified so far including the Bintangor trees (Calophyllum Lanigerum) and believed by researchers to contain the natural compound which could potentially cure AIDS.

Our neighbouring State of Sarawak has long banned both the felling and export of this specific tree species. The Sarawak Medichem Pharmaceuticals Incorporation, is conducting further clinical tests of the drug upon approval from the US Foods and Drugs Administration (FDA).

Upon realising the uniqueness of the area despite barely explored, The Sabah Foundation had voluntarily designated Maliau Basin as a Conservation Area in 1981 along with the Danum Valley as forest corridors not merely to maintain ecological balance but such categories of forest is vital for wildlife habitation.

The Maliau Basin was gazetted as a Class 1 Protection Forest Reserve by the Sabah State Assembly way back in 1997. The driving force behind the entire idea of gazetting the area in question was then Director of Sabah Foundation, Datuk Seri Musa Aman, who subsequently assumed the role as the 14th Chief Minister of Sabah in 2003.

It is evident that this pragmatic leader had realised that much of the natural, untouched areas in other countries are disappearing or have vanished at an alarming rate as a result of conventional logging, the contributing factor to global climate change and extinction of endangered flora and fauna species in several continents of the world.

Maliau Basin

The extend of forest fragmentations caused by the aftermath of human activities such as deforestation either to extract the timbers for their commercial values or paving the way for agricultural development projects, is truly beyond description and had displaced many faunas of their natural habitats.

In summary, this trend will continue as the world population increases but the downside is such development that aims at accommodating the tripling statistics of human beings upon the face of the earth, especially in countries which depend heavily upon forest productions and huge scale land clearing for agricultural development for their economic sustainability, will not render its sympathy for the vital loss of biodiversity, without which the price that our future generations will pay may be too high and beyond imagination, Sabah is no exception.

The fact is the colossal destruction that bled our forests after being ‘Reaped and Raped' repeatedly for commercial purposes either lawfully and illegally, had drastically affected the entire arteries of many water catchment areas, rivers and streams particularly in the Interior Residency of Sabah.

As an example, on April 19, 2010, TV3 showed an aerial video footage of the murky and polluted Pensiangan River in Sabah's Interior, as a result of rampant logging.

By natural process it may possible take a cycle of about 100 years or more to restore the purity of the river's water in question before it is suitable for human consumption. Let alone the unbearable biting heat that we felt during the recent Global Warming caused by an excessive emission of Carbondioxide (CO2), the main green house gas.

During the past 50 years, Malaysia's average temperature has risen by 1.1 degree Celcius, which is consistent with the Global temperature, thus causing abnormal changes in the rainfall patterns that caused more floods. Based upon recent research, scientists have found that the sea level is increasing at the rate of 1.25 mm annually, which is truly alarming!

Factually, the occurrences of those catastrophic phenomena is the aftermath of humans' own foolishness for having excessively plundered, exploited and destroyed the forest flora, eco-system and bio-diversity created by God in pursuit of their materialistic greed under the guise of development.

In 2000 while Musa served as a Director of Sabah Foundation, the State owned organization fought in protest against the idea of mining Maliau for its coal on commercial basis, thus sparking the ‘Monkey and Gold' debate The poser was a reference to the Proboscis monkey, found only on the Island of Borneo.

The debate was mooted by the then Primary Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, who pushed for underground mining of the 200 million tons of Coals discovered within the Maliau Region around 1988.

The extractable volumes and quantities of Coals reserve was estimated to have the potential of coping up with the country's long terms energy requirement for at least 20 years. The later argued that the monkeys can be ‘On Top' and the Coal ‘Underground' as the latest State of Art Mining Techniques or Technology is currently available in the market nowadays.

It was a coincidence that the battle scales tipped slightly when Datuk Musa took the helm of the State Administration as the 14th Chief Minister. In 2003, he stressed firmly that the State Government would not bow to pressure from any groups intending to carry out operations which are environmentally sensitive. It was a move believed to have undermined those of his predecessors.

Apart from the stand on Maliau, the State Government of the day also put a stop to logging in Ulu Segama and demarcated a forest buffer zones three times the size of Singapore aiming at protecting the Danum Valley from the conventional actions of Logging and Mining.

Paradoxically, No State Governments ever saw the need nor pushed as hard for such an effort towards implementing the Policy of Sustainable Forest Management vide my article entitled ‘Solid Conservation Efforts Only in Last Seven Years' (Daily Express 14th November 2010)

It was apparently obvious that the present Chief Minister is determined not to let history repeat under his mantle like the incredible damage done to the Ulu Segama Forest, during the terms of his predecessors, who gave their blessing and ‘Green Light' to the massive & rampant slashing down of 4,000 hectares, which ended up generating a messy extend of forest fragmentation instead, as described by many was liken to the ‘Dark Ages', whereby the area in question was deprived of massive northern buffer zones and being frequently affected by acid rain fall, which scientists are still trying to assess the long term effects.

In the words of CM Musa amidst renewed speculation in 2005 that the Maliau's Coal Deposits would be extracted despite past assurances "You cannot touch the trees, you cannot cut the trees, don't talk about mining. As far as we are concerned, we are never going to mine Maliau Basin. We want it to be classified as a World Heritage Site."

The State Government is actively seeking and working with private sectors entities which include Sime Darby, Shell and IKEA as the means of funding and speeding up conservation initiatives and research studies.

Just recently in January 2011, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib became the first Malaysian PM ever to visit Maliau Basin and has expressed his support for the State Government ‘s stand.

"I would support the Chief Minister in getting this place listed as a World Heritage Site."

During the sojourn, Najib has declared open the Maliau Basin Studies Centre and witnessed the signing of several memorandum of understanding (MOU) between local and international groups involved in research studies of the Sabah rainforests.

Once selected, Maliau Basin would become the Nation's second World Heritage Site and one of the world's most significant biological sites. Our first heritage site is Kinabalu Park, designated by UNESCO in December 2000.

CM Musa was quoted as saying while accompanying the Prime Minister on that particular visit, "Development is still crucial for Sabah. I promised Malaysians in Sabah that the State will reach developed status by 2015. But development does not mean plunder without thought. A gift like Maliau Basin must be guarded. The riches that our children inherit cannot just be capital gain, building and material things. There are some things, capital can never hope to attain once its lost."

In time to come, the One Million hectares (10,000 sq km) conservation zones which encompasses the forest reserves of Malua, Ulu Segama, Danum Valley, Kinabalu Park and the Maliau Basin respectively are set to form part of the 220,000 sq km Conservation Zone in the Heart of Borneo (HoB) constituting the East Malaysian States of Sabah and Sarawak, The Indonesian Territorial Province of Kalimantan and the Kingdom of Brunei by virtue of The Common Understanding sealed in 2007.

All Malaysians be they at homes and abroad and the rest of the world await with held breaths the successful nomination and listing of the mysterious Maliau Basin as a World Heritage Site, the journey of discovery that has just barely begun for this Lost World owes much to those who have played its guardians, reflecting their authentic commitment and efforts to seriously conserve the State's invaluable flora and fauna.

How grateful would we be to see the contributions of our pragmatic leaders playing significant roles in turning this mission and vision into reality? We will be proud not merely having the testimony of a World Heritage Site earlier, but Sabah is part of the entity in the Borneo Conservation Zone that baffled many scientists with its wealth of biodiversity and varied life forms waiting to be discovered that is the wonder of the Borneo Paradise.


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