George Town, 16 February 2023
I read with dismay the recent statement by the G25 urging the Federal Government to put a halt to the Penang South Islands (PSI) project, purportedly to “protect the livelihood of fishermen”. They further claim that the project would “disrupt the fishing grounds thus affecting the fishermen, the national fisheries sector, and the locals in the area, especially those from the lower income bracket…”.
It is a shame that the G25 did not engage with the Penang State Government prior to issuing their statement, as their claims are entirely inaccurate and based on half-truths that have been propagated in the social media.
The Penang State Government would therefore like to extend an invitation to the G25 to engage with us and learn more about the project, so that their misplaced concerns can be assuaged. At the same time, I would like to take this opportunity to put on record a few key facts of the project.
Minimal impact to the fisheries sector
Firstly, the oft-repeated claim that the PSI reclamation would deprive fishermen of their important fishing grounds is categorically untrue. According to an analysis of 200 satellite images captured over time at the area in question, the actual popular fishing locations are beyond the areas earmarked for the PSI. These images and finding are also corroborated by independent data from the Malaysian Space Agency (MySA).
Furthermore, the total fish catch at the southern area of Penang island accounts for only about 0.2% of the national fisheries sector. Hence, it is far-fetched to claim that the project would have any significant impact on national food security.
PSI prioritises the wellbeing of fishermen, provides social uplift to local community
Another important point to note is the fact that the Penang State Government has committed to implement what can described as the most comprehensive social impact management plan (SIMP) that has ever been seen in the country.
Besides providing the fishermen with new and bigger boats equipped with sonar and net haulers, the State has prepared financial aid of up to RM20,000 for each qualified fisherman. In addition to that, we have organised re-skilling and certified training programmes to enable them to tap onto new income sources.
The State will also build new jetties and facilities for the fishermen, as well as ensuring a 250 metre navigation channel for them to access the sea – far beyond what is required. Even more significantly, a cooperative will be established with an initial capital of RM5 million. This will ensure their long-term livelihood and create even more commercial opportunities for the fishermen.
More importantly, and contrary to depictions in the popular media, social impact assessment studies show that a majority of fishermen (74.8%) actually approve of the PSI. In fact, after the original environmental impact assessment (EIA) approval for PSI was revoked, there were over 400 fishermen who signed a petition appealing to the State to continue pursuing the project due to the many benefits that the PSI will bring to their community.
PSI is a climate adaptation strategy
Addressing the G25’s environmental concerns, the State would like to assure that we share the same commitment towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. With that in mind, the PSI has been designed to not only mitigate but also address many environmental issues.
Accordingly, the PSI’s development planning and design have taken into account climate concerns and sea level rise projections by incorporating guidelines from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC), the National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia, the Low Carbon Cities Framework, and independent reports from the Netherlands’ Royal HaskoningDHV as well as the Danish Hydraulic Institute.
After all, reclamation is widely accepted as an effective strategy against climate change and sea level rise that is used by many developed countries such as Denmark and Singapore. In PSI’s case, the minimum platform level has been set at 3 metres above the mean sea level, thus ensuring resilience not only against the projected sea level rise of 0.75m by the year 2100, but also sea level surges during storm events and high tide.
A model sustainable city
Recently, the PSI project has been awarded “Diamond Recognition” by the Malaysian Green Technology and Climate Change Corporation for its ground-breaking efforts to create a low carbon city with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45.47% and carbon sequestration of 1,015.25 tCO2 a year.
Further to that, a key feature of the first island to be reclaimed under the PSI is the development of an ESG-compliant Green Tech Park that is set to be powered by renewable energy. Besides that, the island will also incorporate 405 acres of green and blue spaces including parks, water canals and floodplains, while 20 acres have been allocated for coastal vegetation and mangroves.
In conclusion, the PSI has been designed from the bottom-up with sustainability in mind. Once implemented, it will be a model sustainable city for Malaysia, contributing not only to economic growth but also to the greater effort in combatting climate change.
Zairil Khir Johari
Penang State EXCO for Infrastructure and Transport