Malaysia’s Rainforest Warrior
SHE is as comfortable in platform heels and elegant evening dresses as she is in cargo pants and trekking shoes.
Yes, Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil is as fashionable as she is feisty; feisty about protecting Malaysia’s remaining rainforests, that is. Not bad at all for a 55-year-old mother of five and grandmother of three.
Last year, Sabrina was World Fashion Week Malaysian Chapter Ambassador for the Environment.
She is one of the country’s most vocal environmental advocates and the president of PEKA (Malaysia Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia)
She founded the NGO in 2010 and has been campaigning against hillslope development, deforestation and illegal logging ever since. She is especially vocal against them when they encroach onto indigenous people’s ancestral land.
PEKA also supports local communities in distress, giving aid to flood victims or indigenous groups who are directly or indirectly affected by deforestation or illegal logging.
Sabrina has even been arrested by the police and forestry authorities for her activism and advocacy.
However, she remains unperturbed, as she firmly believes that destroying the nation’s forests means destroying its water catchment areas, ecosystems and precipitating natural disasters such as drought and floods.
Every year, PEKA organizes the Save Our Rainforest Race to raise awareness especially among the younger generation, of the importance of forest preservation.
Sabrina’s love for nature and the outdoors has always been an inherent part of her.
Born and raised in Penang Island, a state in northwestern Malaysia, she remembers that one of her favorite activities growing up was to walk up to the top of Penang Hill, which is 830 meters high.
Today, as part of her personal efforts to save and protect forests, she has bought land deep in the heart of the jungle to keep them from being destroyed.
Today, she has actually bought land deep in the jungle to protect forests from being destroyed.
Sabrina, who is the wife of a prominent Malaysian businessman in the food, beverage and hotel industry, also owns a group of eco resorts in different parts of the country.
She clings strongly to the belief that being a developed country does not mean compromising on efforts to conserve the country’s resources but she says there is a lot of work to be done.
“What I see now in Malaysia is that we are back to being behind in our conservation and preservation efforts. We need all parties -the government sector, agencies, NGOs, the public and students – to get involved now and to push for the preservation of our forests, both for our sake and for that of the future generation.
PEKA, she emphasizes, is not against development per se, but would like to see a balance.
“We at PEKA believe and understand that we need development in this era, yet we want to see sustainable development. For example, opening of new lands and forests for agriculture or mining has to follow guidelines and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures).
“When you cut a tree, you plant back three trees (as per European Union regulations). Our enforcement has to be stricter, with heavier penalties for illegal logging. We also need to amend our forestry laws to get rid of loopholes”
PEKA has gone right to the top to lobby and is hoping that the new government will take the environment seriously and amend old laws.
PEKA also wants the government to reconsider the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), which spans four states and aims to shorten the distance between the east and west coast. The 688km project was due to be completed in 2024 but is currently suspended as it is feared that the impact on the environment could be too costly.
“We want the new government to make good on their manifesto promise to conserve Mother Nature and also to protect the rights of the Orang Asli (indigenous people). And we are ready to offer our help and work with the government on this.”
Author: Elle Wong (act)
Date11.08.2018 | 13:13
TagsEast Coast Rail Link, ECRL, Elle Wong, indigenous people, Malaysia, mother nature, Orang Asli, PEKA, Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, women's rights, World Fashion Week