Next Melaka CM-Waterfront Economic Zone Yes or No?

While the incumbent Barisan Nasional still believe that the Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone (M-WEZ) would generate 10,000 jobs within five years, both Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) take a nuanced and more sceptical (or “hardline”) position, respectively.

PN has pledged a thorough and comprehensive review of the mega-project should it come into power. On the other hand, PH’s erstwhile Chief Minister Adly Zahari has also promised to do the same – by giving special attention to all reclamation and sea embankment projects (as was done under his administration where the latter were halted).

According to M-WEZ’s website, the mega project involves 10,117ha (which is double the area of Putrajaya) along the 33km-long coastline and will be divided into five sections.

The five sections include:

  1. Melaka Harbourfront;
  2. Smart Logistic Nucleus; 
  3. Digital Satellite Township;
  4. Central Eco Business Park; and
  5. Trade Nucleus New Township.

There will be extensive reclamation works covering around half of Melaka’s entire coastline – affecting eight coastal constituencies.

Starting from the coast of Sungai Udang, the M-WEZ will extend along the coast of Pantai Kundor to Kelebang, Kesidang, Kota Laksamana, Bandar Hilir, Telok Mas until the northern part of Serkam.

As the project covers thousands of hectares of new land reclaimed from the sea, the fishermen have expressed utmost concern for their livelihoods.

In fact, the massive RM43 billion Melaka Gateway project on Pulau Melaka that terminated in November last year has disrupted their fishing activities. The noise and pollutants from the land reclamation works have driven marine life away from the coast and deeper into the sea.

As a result, fishermen faced a steep drop in their catch like geragau prawns, one of the main ingredients of belacan during recent years. Without the financial capability to purchase bigger boats for deep-sea fishing, they have no choice but to continue trying their luck near the coast.

The dredging works for the expansion of the Tanjung Bruas port last year has also worsened the situation. Many fishermen experienced the loss of their nets and fish traps as well as damaged equipment when their fishing boats clashed with the sand mining ships.

Although incumbent Chief Minister of Melaka Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali promised to compensate 300 fishermen impacted by the jetty extension work, fishermen revealed that they did not receive a single sen till today. 

To sustain their livelihoods, some fishermen had to risk their lives, using their existing small boats to go farther out to sea to source for their catch. They now have to venture into and ply the busy shipping lanes/hives “in the hub of the Straits of Melaka” and contend with higher waves.

Although land reclamation could potentially boost the socio-economic and infrastructural development of a coastal city such as Melaka Historical City, sand mining and dredging operations during the reclamation process would destroy the coastal ecosystem such as coral reefs, seagrasses, mangroves, meadows and mudflats. 

Lack of mangroves and mudflats eventually would maximise the impact of waves on coastal areas – causing seawater intrusion into groundwater. It would also affect nearby agricultural land as the pH value of the soil is altered, thus making it unsuitable for plant growth, especially for species that are sensitive to salinity changes.

As land filling with dredging materials would increase suspended particles in the water column, this would eventually destroy the habitats and breeding grounds for fish, sea turtles, crustaceans, plants and other marine life.

And when replacing mangrove-lined coastlines with artificial structures, the water level in the original aquifer would rise – leaving coastal communities vulnerable to flooding.

Such a phenomenon is not new in Melaka – the residents staying in low-lying, flood-prone areas such as Kota Laksamana, Jalan Ong Kim Wee and areas around Jonker Street often experience mud damaged electrical and home appliances. They had to absorb unexpected costs from the flooding, which is up to thousands of ringgit in losses.

With a loss of jobs and income arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, the hardcore poor and B40 households who stay in flood-prone areas would become more vulnerable in making ends meet due to the economic losses from previous lockdown measures.

If the reclamation works are conducted over a prolonged period, it may cause adverse effects on the public’s health due to long term exposure to dust and debris.

In addition, land reclamation projects have threatened the heritage of the (one and only) Portuguese community in Melaka.

As the saying goes, “Where there are Portuguese around the world, there is sea. There is no separating the Portuguese from the sea”.

As massive land reclamation works have hindered the influx of seawater, the ritual of taking seawater to splash each other during Intrudu, the water festival among the Portuguese community in Melaka, has been replaced by the use of tanks of tap water during recent years.

Therefore, to mitigate the ongoing losses associated with land reclamation works in Melaka, the next Melaka state government should take serious consideration in implementing the following initiatives:

  • Introduce reforestation around low-lying, flood-prone areas to regulate water flows, act as barriers against storm surges and protect against erosion and mudslides;
  • Barrages could be built and installed at strategic locations to provide support in the form of water level control, especially as diversion and pumping or draining flood water into the sea.

    And an integrated water pumping system – a series or grid of pumping stations – should be developed that are linked to canals and rivers, and located near the coast to ensure excess water is drained into the catchment areas and sea;
  • Regularly clearing solid pollutants that clog drains and rivers;
  • Increase the carrying capacity of rivers and drains – either widening, deepening or both;
  • Install simple, custom-designed surveillance Internet of Things (IoT) modules at designed spots along the river. They can consist of a pollution detection sensor, a camera, a micro-controller, a transmitter and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery to prevent the river from clogging/silting;
  • Construct high-capacity sewage treatment plants equipped with digital processes and nano-technology to restore polluted rivers to their original clean water quality condition;
  • Transform abandoned and underused sites in existing areas into community and economic assets such as parks, affordable housings, catchment ponds (retention and detention); and
  • Install pedestrian walkways or cycling pathways – promoting not more than 15-minute walking or cycling distance for most shops, parks, leisure facilities and residential areas.

In addition, the in-coming Melaka state government should also:

  • Work closely with the private sector to identify potential tourism sites beyond Jonker Street and enable the local products to be sold via digital applications and social media, thus enhancing employability among Melakans; and
  • Promote and emphasise the uniqueness, beauty and cultural heritage of Melaka via the social influencers of the blogging or social media platforms.

While M-WEZ might provide the opportunity for Melaka to restore its lost glory, whichever coalition that will form the next Melaka state government should treat the rakyat’s livelihoods as the top priority.

Instead of creating additional new land from the sea, the government could look into alternative ways to boost the economic development in Melaka.

Amanda Yeo is Research Analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.


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