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Bombing Clock Is Ticking

Depleted marine resources can lead to food crisis. It’s not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’

The United Nations has reported that projections have shown that the “world is not on track to achieve Sustainable Goal 2, Zero Hunger by 2030 and, despite some progress, most indicators are also not on track to meet global nutrition targets.”

It went on to add that according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report, the “food security and nutritional status of the most vulnerable population groups is likely to deteriorate further due to the health and socio-economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The latest addition of that report estimated that between 720 and 811 million people went hungry in 2020.

These are obviously not good news at all coming from an organization that set the world on the path toward a better future that promises no one would ever go hungry and be poor by 2030, among the 17 goals. 

Yet it seems easy for anyone to feel unaffected by reports like these when food is still easily accessible. For a place like Sabah, foods appear to be still in abundance, so it seems. 

But a 2020 article by Dr Pamela Yong, the Deputy Chairman of the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research, which was published by The Star suggested that the population could not afford to take things for granted.

“To remain content and be idle is also a danger,” she wrote.

She noted that Sabah was highly reliant in food imports, especially rice, where imports in 2017 made up 74 per cent of its total supply, while vegetable imports made up 47 per cent according to data from the Sabah Agricultural Blueprint 2018.

Everyone knows that to be too dependent on others to feed the population is unwise, risky and unsustainable. Dr Yong highlighted how the pandemic had “thrown a spanner into the import economy with several Asean nations mulling a ban on rice exports.”

When Vietnam, the world’s third largest rice exporter, did that, she wrote how that move had set tongues waggling among Sabahans who were wondering if food security could morph into a major crisis in the coming months that year.

Was this a show of genuine concern or just a passing response to the emotions of the moment? The latter could likely be the case until the next food security issue surfaces that would get everyone asking the same question all over again. 

There is however an interesting report by the World Food Programme recently that warned more countries will “feel the burn” as food and energy price rise fuel hunger. 

It wrote that as hunger threatened the Ukraine directly, the fallout from the war would spread across the globe.

Warning that 2022 would be a year of catastrophic hunger, with 44 million people in 38 countries teetering on the edge of famine, WFP Executive Director David Beasley reportedly said: “As the war heats up, dozens of distant countries are set to feel the burn.”

While geographically Sabah is too far from the war zone, it is arguably close, economically speaking, what more with the borderless world that has brought global citizens a lot close together than at any time in history.

What these reports and statements suggest – or rather warn – is that hunger can affect anyone, anytime. 

Tying all these with the issue of fish bombing in Sabah, it makes sense that the state needs to have a stronger action oriented policy on food security. It must ensure that it can always feed its population of over 4 million. And fish or other marine products are important to their healthy daily diet.

The United Nations had highlighted the Sabah Government Anti Fish Bombing Committee’s commitment to the long-term protection and sustainability of its precious marine biodiversity through a network of appropriately managed Marine Protected Areas, together with rational management of activities taking place outside the MPA network. 

The committee, it stated, had wished to register its voluntary commitment to suppressing fish bombing by 2020, as indicated in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 14. 

One of the committee’s approaches to achieve its objective was to improve enforcement through the use of new technologies and enhanced capacity. This has been the work of Stop Fish Bombing Malaysia (SFBMY) with the deployment of the sensors in partnership with ShotSpotter Labs and Stop Fish Bombing USA. Both have developed a real time underwater bomb detection technology to alert marine law enforcement of blasting events for rapid and precise response.

While technology tremendously helps, SFBMY Executive Director Terence Lim insists that the people, especially policy makers, need to realise the larger agenda of Sabah’s food security.

Just like the concern about having no rice in the market, dwindling fish stocks to feed millions of Sabahans is equally alarming.

“It’s actually happening already but most people probably don’t realise it,” he says.

A National Geographic article in 2019 highlighted a landmark United Nations report that found the “maximum catch from fisheries could decline by as much as 24.1 per cent by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emission continued unabated.”

Bloomberg reported late last year that according to a study backed by Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest, the world fish stocks are in worse state than expected, with “about half of assessed stocks being overfished.”

It stated that according to Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation, the rate of depletion is worse than previous estimates of just over a third. And that a “tenth of fish stocks worldwide is now on the brink of collapse, reduced to 10 per cent of their original size.”

It further stated that the journey to replenishing fish numbers is not easy as it takes between three to 30 years for stocks to recover.

For Terence, Sabah’s journey in tightening its food security when it comes to fish and marine resources must be consistent and decisive.

Having grown up in Tawau in the 70s and 80s, a town once famed for its cheap and abundance of fish and seafood, and having been a professional diver most of his adult life, Terence has seen the rate of the depletion.

“It’s worrying,” he says.

“Unless we take stronger actions now, there will come a time when we won’t have enough fish to feed the population. And even if we could, they would be super expensive simply because they’ll be hard to come by.

“I don’t want my kids to be inheriting a future like this, if and when it happens. I want them to be able to have good and cheap fish to eat just as I did as a kid while at the same time ensure that the underwater natural beauty remains as pristine as it was before for people to enjoy and appreciate,” adds Terence.

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