Malaysia recorded the highest rate of deforestation in past decade, as a result of rapid development. We have lost millions of trees in the legal and illegal deforestation, in past decades. Rapid developments and the growing commodity industry (timber, palm oil plantation) certainly a contributory factor to the high paced deforestation rate in Malaysia. At times, the humans tend to care more for the green dollars over the green environment.
Sadly, not only the trees in our forests are affected by humans’ greed, but we are also losing the trees that stood amongst us, in our cities, towns and villages, for infrastructure developments, and sometimes for no reason. Local authorities in Malaysia are required by law to protect the trees in our neighborhoods, but many of these local authorities failed to protect the trees, because most of the time they are unaware of their legal responsibility towards trees. Section 35H of Town and Country Planning Act 1976, clearly made it an illegal for anyone to ‘cut down’ a tree (of diameter 0.8 meter and above) without the written permission of the Local Authority. Any tree, be it on public or private land is protected under this section. Anyone who ‘cut down’ a tree without the permission of the local authority can be fined up to RM10,000 by the court. According to Act 172, any act of vandalizing, destroying, disturbing the tree’s originality is also described as ‘cutting down’, and the perpetrator can be fined up to RM10,000. Hence, we can conclude that trees in our urban areas are very much protected by the law. But, the local authorities’ lackluster attitude in enforcing the Section 35H of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 caused us to lose more trees in our cities and town in past 50 years.
According to the World Health Organization estimation, annually 3.2 million deaths (due to stroke, asthma and heart attack) are caused by fine particulate matter in the air. The number could increase tremendously by 2050, where it is estimated the fine particulate matters in the air will cause 6.2 million deaths annually, if the cities and governments are not taking serious efforts to tackle the issue of air pollution.
According to World Health Organization report in 2014, heat waves and heat weather related diseases are causing 12,000 deaths annually. And WHO estimates climate change-attributable heat related deaths can increase to 100,000 annually in 2030 and can reach 260,000 deaths by 2050, if cities around the world don’t adapt themselves to climate change.
Dozens of studies concluded that trees in can positively contribute to decrease the air pollutions and the cool the air in its surroundings. Scientific studies proven that the tree leaves capable of filter out the particulate matter and other air pollutants from the atmosphere.
Similarly, many studies too suggest that trees, with their transpiration of water during photosynthesis can help reduce the air temperature. Some dendrologists suggest that trees are our natural air conditioners, citing the capability of the trees to cool the air.
More cities are investing in trees for clean air and cool air, recognizing the roles that trees can play in the growing urbanization. Even cities like Beijing and Jakarta, which are known for their unhealthy air, are investing in trees to tackle their air pollution in the cities. New York in particularly creating more urban forests, recognizing the health and environmental benefits trees provide. Local authorities in Malaysia should follow these cities and start to invest in trees immediately. Besides planting new trees, local authorities too should protect the existing trees considering their contribution for cleaner and cooler air in our urban areas for all these years.
ISSUED ON 26 NOVEMBER 2016, IN SEBERANG PERAI, PENANG BY Satees Muniandy, Chairman of Penang Nature Conservation Society