A transportation plan that crosses the line

Vinita Ramani Mohan Today Online 20 May 13;

I continue to read with dismay the ongoing plans to develop the Cross Island Line, which will cause habitat damage in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

As one who is interested in regional development issues, I have travelled widely in South-east Asia.

Citizens I have met from large, densely populated cities such as Bangkok, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta seem somewhat resigned to the pollution, traffic and poor urban planning in their cities.

But they are proud of their respective country and its vast hinterlands: Beaches, hillsides, forest reserves and ancient monuments or temples nestled in jungles.

Friends from smaller cities such as Dili, Phnom Penh and rapidly developing Yangon are determined to ensure that their cities are green, well-planned and mindful of conservation values.

But they, too, have hinterland to be proud of, and they tell me to venture into provinces beyond the capital or main city.

Here lies the critical difference between Singapore and almost every other country in the region: We have no real hinterland.

We would tell visitors to head to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Bukit Brown, the rail corridor or farms in Lim Chu Kang. We are proud of these places, since we have nothing by way of vast countryside, ancient temples or other heritage sites.

Each time I go away and return to Singapore, I long for our nature reserves. I am not a botanist or zoologist, but I feel a proud sense of stewardship and marvel at what exists on such a tiny island.

We withdraw from the crowds in urban areas and visibly relax in an environment that alleviates stress.

I take foreign visitors to these places and emphasise this: What we lack in size, we more than make up for in the diversity of species that our natural environment, the primeval and old secondary growth forests, support.

There is also a strong spiritual and cultural value attached to these places. I see Singaporeans meditating, doing tai chi and stilling their minds in the forest reserves. I see families teaching their children about nature.

The Cross Island Line is worrying because it sends the message that we need not care about stewardship and responsibility.

Unlike the Burmese, Cambodians or others in the region, we have little to point to as our heritage and legacy. The forests are our heritage, a vital relic of old Singapore. They existed long before immigrants arrived here, and they survived colonial rule and the war.

It would be a pity to see them irreparably damaged by transportation developments.

In a word, destroyed by Singaporeans who have a responsibility to protect their land.

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