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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #71

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #71 Sep 17

Chapter 9: Institutions Matter

Our Valuable Rain Forests

The warm tropical climate sustains the lush rainforest. From the air, it appears as an unending green velvet carpet that covers much of the country, interrupted only by the ribbon of rivers or the clearings of human settlements.

The rainforest is rich in every sense; rich in valuable tropical hardwood, rich in its diversity of life forms, and rich in its services to the natural environment. The rainforest was once referred to as jungle, with the connotation of the source of pestilence, something impenetrable, and an obstacle to progress. It had to be conquered and destroyed; it was presumed to have no intrinsic value.

As a result, a large swath of the rainforest has been stripped, clear cut, and degraded through pollution. One can see this from the air as littered pockmarks on the otherwise pristine landscape. Only after the forest is gone do we feel the adverse consequences. That lush jungle covering betrays the thin layer of topsoil that supports the luxuriant growth. When that cover is gone, the soil is subjected to torrential rain and endless erosion. This in turn denudes the land, turning it into a barren moonscape. The resulting silting clogs rivers and reservoirs, giving rise to endless cycles of floods and droughts. The burning of the forest creates a poisonous haze that now regularly afflicts the region.

The absence of the thick foliage means the removal of nature’s most effective air and climatic recycling system. The leaves absorb the carbon dioxide turning it to life-sustaining oxygen. The leaves also breathe water vapor into the air, which in turn creates the clouds and the rainfall. Absent that and we have profound microclimatic changes.

The disastrous ecological consequences for disturbing the centuries-old jungle environment are many. When the thick jungle canopy is denuded and the soil depleted, once useful forests of hardwood would give way to hardy and persistent weeds of the secondary jungle. The land is then essentially lost as an asset. That is the readily observable loss. The more valuable but less appreciated loss is the depletion of the biodiversity. The rainforest is literally a treasure house of varied life forms. It contains plants and other life forms that may be nature’s secret ingredients for curing cancer, infections, and hosts of other diseases.

This more than any other reason is why we should keep our rainforests intact. We just do not have the knowledge yet to identify all the plant and animal life, let alone discover their potential values. We should listen to the cautious voices of the environmental NGOs like Friends of the Earth. The fact that these ecologically conscious NGOs are Western-based is no reason to ignore their warnings. They are not trying to keep Malaysia backwards in preserving those valuable jungles. There is just no need to repeat the mistakes of the West.

PART III Where We are Now
Chapter II: Learning From Our Successes


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