It is imperative for the Government to build basic infrastructure in rural areas if it hopes to eradicate poverty, said United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Representative Dr Richard Leete. He said projects aimed at developing the economy of poor villagers would be unsustainable if they are not provided with basic necessities such as sealed roads, clean water, electricity and communication. “For example in Mangkuwagu, if the community produces a large quantity of high-quality rubber but the roads are so bad that the middlemen are more worried about fixing their vehicles, how will they move their produce? “We must have movements to seriously develop the roads ... it is a human right to have good access,” he said at a press conference yesterday. Leete said this to reporters after launching the UNDP’s advocacy report, “Sustainable Community Forest Management in Sabah”, at the State Forestry Department’s Kota Kinabalu office in Lok Kawi here. He explained that the report is based on the Mangkuwagu Social Forestry project, jointly developed by the UNDP and the State Forestry Department, which is a “demonstration project” on sustainable conservation and rural economic development. “What, is important is to balance the two sides of the equation, to conserve the vast biodiversity and try to make a difference in the lives of those who live in the margins of the forests. “The community in Mangkuwagu don’t have pens to write with, they don’t have the basic tools that we have when we wake up in the morning or go to sleep, things like electricity which we take for granted here ... they are yesterday’s world living in modern Malaysia,” he said. State Forestry Department Director Datuk Sam Mannan revealed that a total of RM7.2 million has been allocated for the two-year Mangkuwagu project, including RM3 million each from the State and Federal Governments and RM1.2 million from UNDP. “Mangkuwagu is part of FMU 17, and the focus is purely on social forestry. A management plan has been prepared for the area, to ensure that we can make a difference for the residents and it is sustainable,” he said. Earlier in his speech, Leete highlighted the lack of equitable distribution of development that has contributed greatly to Sabah’s poverty rate of 23 percent, which is the highest in the country. “The problem in Sabah is not one of economic growth. It is quite high compared to other countries in the world. The problem is the inequality in the distribution of growth. “The UNDP would also like to appeal for the localisation of basic infrastructure as a key prerequisite for poverty eradication, and this includes paved roads, water supply, electricity, communication and safe sewerage. “Without these infrastructure, development projects become unsustainable in the long run. We still have people who do not have electricity, and this is a blight on the excellent record of development in Malaysia where development is brought to the people but rural communities in Sabah and Sarawak are largely ignored,’’ he said.