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Flood events have grown in recent decades, making Malaysia particularly susceptible to flooding. The increase in the intensity and frequency of environmental disasters such as floods shows that economic development without environmental consideration will not guarantee the well-being of the rakyat.
This was acknowledged by the Prime Minister during the Budget 2023 announcement last Friday (24 February), when he said that in addition to pursuing economic growth, it is important for us to combine a sustainable and balanced quality of life, and maintain the relationship between humans and nature.
In addition to the re-tendering of six flood prevention projects in Selangor, Johor, and Kelantan, similar flood mitigation initiatives should include Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the coastal cities and island communities that are very vulnerable to flooding and coastal erosion. We believe that adaptation and mitigation using Nature-Based Solutions can help these communities to become more resilient toward the impacts of climate change.
Nature-Based Solutions use the services that nature provides to solve a wide range of social, economic, and environmental problems such as food and water security, climate change, and reducing the risk of disasters. For instance, ecosystems like mangrove forests and coral reefs protect the coastlines from storms, and waves reducing the severity of coastal erosions and loss and damage to properties. Hence, carefully planned and implemented Nature-based Solutions can bring tremendous value as they are usually cheaper than man-made infrastructure and bring multiple benefits to local communities.
The Prime Minister also announced that RM 150 million will be allocated to the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) for assets, warning systems, and disaster relief efforts. This is encouraging and we would like to highlight the importance of working at the grassroots level to empower communities in disaster management and also implementing innovative early warning systems, for example by using digital technology. In order to do this, NADMA can collaborate with local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) on disaster risk reduction, preparedness, and relief efforts. WWF-Malaysia would recommend channeling some of the allocations for this purpose.
Malaysia has the opportunity to become a leader in sustainable infrastructure with the construction of the Pan-Borneo Highway and the Sarawak-Sabah Link Road. This can be done by taking nature into account when designing and planning these roads to minimize impacts on biodiversity. Similarly, the budget also allocated RM 480 million to construct a new road from Habu to Tanah Rata in Cameron Highlands to ease traffic congestion. It is critical that we take precautionary measures in environmentally sensitive areas where development could have a negative effect on soil stability.
Our forests and marine areas are home to incredibly diverse flora and fauna, and as they thrive, ecosystems can continue to provide services like acting as a buffer to the impacts of climate change, including reducing the risks of floods and landslides. An important aspect of environmental conservation in Malaysia is addressing financial drivers. In this respect, we were glad to see the allocation for the Ecological Fiscal Transfer (EFT) - which incentivises state governments to protect natural areas - increased from RM 70 million to RM 150 million this year, and we hope that this will increase further in the following years.
The Government also proposed to allocate RM 80 million for the palm oil industry to improve its sustainability practices, and address the anti-palm oil campaign movement. We believe that efforts should be concentrated fully on elevating the quality, standards, and sustainability of oil palm, with a focus on smallholders who do not have the budget that big companies have.
In protecting wildlife, RM 50 million has been allocated to raise the number of rangers who patrol our forest regions - increasing the number of rangers to 1,500 and prioritising the local Orang Asli community as well as police and army veterans. More patrolling and enforcement operations are needed to monitor and safeguard our endangered wildlife such as Malayan tigers, particularly in areas where illegal poachers are active.
We commend the Government for introducing a budget that is committed to both nature conservation and long-term financial sustainability, although further improvement is still possible. Moving forward, we ask that more allocations are given to the Natural Resources, Environment, and Climate Change Ministry for environmental monitoring, enforcement, protection, data collection, and mainstreaming environmental considerations across sectors as this is a portfolio that is becoming increasingly important in this day and age of changing climate and loss of nature.