A motorcycle ride to Terengganu via the East Coast Expressway recently has left me shocked, bewildered, and heartbroken.
If what I had seen along the 700-odd kilometre ride last weekend can be used as a barometer on what is happening to our surroundings, I dare say we are in a lot of trouble.
It was my second time using the expressway, which snakes all the way through Selangor and Pahang before ending in Terengganu.
Lebuhraya Pantai Timur (LPT) has gained quite a reputation since it was opened to traffic in stages from 2011.
It has not only gained notoriety as a hotspot for accidents along certain stretches but also reputed to be a favourite haunt of spirits, with numerous sightings of dead people walking on the road or swinging on signboards, and even hitching rides on the back of lorries.
While logic would point to the many fatal accidents which happened on the expressway to reckless or exhausted drivers, animals crossing or damaged road, many still swear that there are ghosts lurking along certain parts of the lonely stretches.
I, too, had been warned of the dangers of travelling on the expressway before embarking on the ride with a convoy of about 15 bikers, comprising mainly of photographers from the Malaysian Press Photographers Association (MPPA).
MPPA had organised the ride as part of its “Kembara Lensa Murni 2”programme, and our itinerary included visiting an orphanage in Kuala Terengganu and spending time with members of the Royal Malaysian Police’s Special Action Unit (UTK) based at Pulau Kapas.
The adventure, along with the shock and other feelings mentioned earlier, hit me the moment our convoy cleared the Kuala Lumpur— Karak stretch.
I did not pay much attention to it at first but then it struck me. You cannot miss them. An endless number of huge timber lorries were hogging the expressway slowly inching towards their destination with loads of logs of all sizes.
It was not just one or two, or a few but many. These timber lorries could be seen all along the expressway, from Karak onwards. How long before we completely lose all the trees?
Is anyone even bothered about what is happening? I silently wondered as our convoy zoomed on eastwards.
A casual observation of the logs that had been cut easily showed that whoever felled the trees had little concern over the size of trees they were chopping down. Then, as we reached the midsection of the expressway, I saw for myself the destruction that had taken place, and was happening even then.
Whole plots as far as the eyes could see on the right and left of the expressway, had been laid bare, with not a single tree to be seen in an area which was once covered with nothing but lush greenery.
The sight of the scarred earth scared the living daylights out of me and it had nothing to do with the horror stories about the expressway. It was the extent of destruction that had horrified me.
Bald patches were everywhere and there was also evidence of more areas being cleared. Therefore, instead of enjoying the cool breeze while riding along the expressway, all a rider gets is hot air blowing into his face.
A stop at the Gambang R&R provided further evidence that something really bad was happening at water catchment areas in the east coast as the water which came out of the taps was shockingly brownish.
“We are used to this, it’s worse than this sometimes. What do you expect with all the land clearing that is taking place,” a cleaner there said when I enquired about the water.
It is also little wonder that massive clearing of the jungle has led to the destruction of wildlife habitat, causing many animals to wander onto the expressway.
In February, a pregnant tigress was rammed to death by a vehicle as it strayed onto the road. If not for the tragic accident we would have three tigers — one mother and her two cubs—roaming the jungles. Tigers or other wild animals meeting with untimely deaths on our highways are not simply unfortunate incidents but the direct result of human encroachment that has resulted in the destruction of their habitats.
It’s, therefore, hardly surprising that we are now facing disasters that were unheard of previously, including major rivers and water catchment areas drying up or becoming polluted. It’s easy to blame it on El-Nino or climate change, but it is time weface up to the reality that little is being done to preserve the greenery which used to cover the entire breadth and width of the country.
A minister was recently quoted as saying that a number of environmentally friendly measures have been introduced since 2009, and proudly disclosed that 54.5 per cent of the country was still under forest cover. The people were also assured that at least 50 per cent of forest and tree cover will be maintained in perpetuity through “zero nett deforestation and degradation”.
I hope this happens, but after seeing the timber lorries on the Karak and East Coast Expressway, I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.
Sharanjit Singh is a journalist who feels less talk and more action is needed to save planet earth from mankind.