Human Habitat Highways: Striking A Balance Between Benefits And Risks

The Pan Borneo Highway which is undergoing upgrading works. – photo credit

KOTA KINABALU: Members of Sabah’s civil society have initiated an advocacy platform to facilitate greater public engagement and explore ways to maximise the potential social and environmental benefits of the Pan Borneo Highway and to minimise negative impacts such as wildlife poaching.

Over the last three months, Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) and Forever Sabah have been working to weave a stakeholder web that gathers an alliance of civil society partners and members of the local and international scientific community to harness their combined expertise and networks for the Human Habitats Highways initiative.


Cynthia Ong, the LEAP Executive Chair said that Musa Aman’s (Sabah Chief Minister) recent remarks on welcoming public participation, which he said was a way to hear and take note of views in proposed projects and development plans, were timely as ground work to build the advocacy platform is now set to proceed.

Ong welcomed the Musa’s remarks, which were delivered at the opening of “Sabah’s Planning Conference: Public Participation Towards Liveable Cities in Sabah” on October 31, where he said that public participation could provide an effective platform in identifying comprehensive issues and resolutions creatively, and which could be addressed immediately.

“I have written to the Chief Minister to support his statement and to inform him of an initiative that is doing precisely this through public participation with a focus on the Pan Borneo Highway,” she said in a statement.

LEAP and Forever Sabah are carrying out the advocacy component for Malaysia, with an initial focus on Sabah and Sarawak, in tandem with a three-year research project called “Limiting Environmental Impacts While Optimising Benefits of Rapid Road Expansion in the Asia-Pacific Region” by the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science at James Cook University, Australia.


Ong said LEAP and Forever Sabah are hoping to meet in person with Musa to inform him of this initiative and to seek his support to interface with government and the private sector in a way that responds to the kind of leadership offered by the Chief Minister in his speech.

“This can help planning and implementation of the Pan Borneo Highway to be more robust with greater public understanding and agreement,” she said.

Working with the research team from James Cook University, the advocacy approach is aimed at enhancing the relevance and impact of the research findings by facilitating engagement and agency within the relevant social, planning and legal processes for infrastructure development.

Anne Lasimbang, Forever Sabah Director, said that within the context of Sabah and Sarawak, it is essential to identify where roads would be most beneficial for the people, such as when these links enable local farmers to access markets and latest agricultural extension services, providing better access to health care, schools and employment opportunities.

“For each new road that is built, it is crucial to strike a balance between potential benefits and risks such as deforestation and wildlife poaching,” she said.

Lasimbang said that through the Human Habitats Highways advocacy work, science and civil society could potentially forge a new path for constructive collaboration with the public and private sectors, and collective skills and expertise could be used to fill gaps in the process.