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New forest map for Sarawak reveals large-scale deforestation, encroachment on indigenous territories

Map showing Land use in Sarawak

Land use in Sarawak

A new online platform released by the Bruno Manser Fund reveals large-scale destruction of Sarawak’s rainforests, peatlands, and traditional lands.

Drawing from a variety of sources, the Sarawak Geoportal includes data on logging concessions, oil palm plantations, existing and proposed dams, historical forest cover, the extent of indigenous cultivated areas, election results, and area where there are current native customary rights (NCR) disputes. It also shows recent deforestation and areas that will be inundated by new dams.

The tool provides greater insight into the state of Sarawak’s forests, aiming to boost transparency around land use in a state that has become notorious for mismanagement and corruption. It could help counter misinformation promulgated by officials who have made increasingly outlandish claims about the state of its forests, including an assertion in 2011 by Chief Minister of Sarawak Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud that 70 percent of Sarawak’s rainforests are intact. The new platform suggests the actual number is closer to 11 percent.

“All this information should have been made public by the Sarawak government long ago”, BMF director Lukas Straumann said. “The data have deliberately been shut away in order to facilitate the land grab by the political elite under outgoing Chief Minister Taib Mahmud. We expect that the next government will release all relevant land use data to the public. The importance of public access to environmental information has been recognized by the United Nations’ Aarhus Convention.”

State of Sarawak’s forests in the 1960’s compared with 2010

Map showing areas cultivated in Sarawak before it became part of Malaysia

The Sarawak Geoportal comes on the heels of the release of Global Forest Watch, a platform that provides monthly deforestation alerts for all the world’s forests. Global Forest Watch was developed over several years by the World Resources Institute, Google, and about 40 other partners.

Sarawak’s forests have been rapidly destroyed in recent years by industrialized logging operations and conversion to oil palm plantations. The government is now planning a massive scale-up in mining, hydroelectric dams, and timber plantations. Much of the expansion is expected to take place at the expense of lands used by traditional communities.

Limbang dam

Dams in Sarawak

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