A state project consisting in building a paved road and a bridge in the Kinabatangan region in accordance with the Sabah Development Corridor’s plan (SDC) launched in January 2008, one of the economic corridors initiated under the 9th Malaysia Plan – and approved under the 11th Malaysia Plan – has been a center of a lot of attention and concerns by local organizations and researchers since January this year.
At the moment, the project comprises a 240 m long bridge expected to connect the western river bank to the Sukau village on the East and a road which would connect Sukau to Litang and Tomanggong, over 40 km away to the South-East. A 1000 m long viaduct would be included to the project across elephant habitat. The SDC plan states this project is to stimulate local economic activities and ensure the sustainable management of the state’s resources.
Any of the different options proposed for the project at the moment will worsen the forest fragmentation, which is already bad in the area. A lot of forests have been converted to oil palm plantations or other form of development since the last decade.
Researchers raised their concerns on the impacts the project would generate on the elephant populations and the threat to their survival. He said that the elephants wouldn’t go under the bridge because of the vibrations and noise which would result in splitting elephant herds in Sukau with those in Lokan and Tangkulap.
Orangutans are also found in the Lower Kinabatangan region at a quite high density. There would be 700 to 825 orangutans in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain. As for the pygmy elephants, the project would go against the Lower Kinabatangan’s forests site-based priority action from the State’s Orangutan Action Plan which stipulates that efforts should be focused on preventing “any process that would further fragment the orangutan habitat (highways, bridges etc)”.
On the other hand several local communities in Sukau and surrounding villages are pushing for the project. They say they need it to facilitate the access to Sandakan or Lahad Datu for public healthcare services in a more secure and fastest way than presently. Broadly this bridge and the connected road would meet the villagers’ needs for development and improve their general living conditions.
It wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest to block the people from improving their livelihood especially when it comes to healthcare. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of wildlife survival and remaining forests.
The issue is very sensitive as a protest was organized by some villagers from Sukau an around on March 6th in kampung Sukau, to push the project to start and to show their objections to the NGOs for going against the project, thus causing the needed development to be postponed.
We hope and will push for an alternative solution to be discussed, a solution that minimizes the impacts on wildlife and forests and still allows the people to conveniently have access to healthcare and to meet their needs as much as possible.
Foto will post updates as soon as we hear any on our Facebook page and website.