Environmental degradation puts industries, quality of life at risk
Illegal plantations and bauxite mining must be taken seriously as destruction of nature can lead to a negative domino effect
THE natural beauty of Pahang is evident in the greenery that canopies vast swaths of forested hills and valleys that make up most of its 36,137 sq km area.
Ancient rivers like Sungai Pahang, documented in the Ming Dynasty’s Mao Kun Map in the 17th century, flow between the rainforests that hold the land together.
Long-tailed macaques, barking deer and wild boars flit between the forest trails as otters swim in Sungai Tembeling; the famous
and other aquatic life scurry back and forth in Sungai Rompin, which flows out to the vast South China Sea.
However, the natural balance of the ecosystem is fragile and can easily be disrupted by modern industries that power the state’s economy.
In 2015, due to extensive bauxite mining in locations like Felda Bukit Goh, Bukit Kuantan and Beserah, there was a hue and cry for better standard operating procedures when village roads turned red with dust, earning comparisons to Mars.
The negative publicity became such that on Jan 15 last year, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry imposed a moratorium on bauxite mining in Pahang until stockpiles were cleared and clean-up of the mines were completed.
However, in the last six months, villagers in Felda Bukit Kuantan and in Kampung Jeram, Beserah, Kuantan, became suspicious that mining of the valuable mineral continued.
Felda Bukit Kuantan settlers claim that miners mined under the cover of nocturnal darkness. For the folks in Kampung Jeram, their suspicion was first triggered when two excavators suddenly appeared in the village, with a representative of the miners claiming that they had a permit to clear bauxite stockpiles.
What was more intriguing was when the excavators disappeared the following day when villagers confronted the miners.
Throughout it all, the state authorities claimed that the work being carried out was merely stockpile clearing or that they had placed inspection personnel at some locations to ensure only stockpile clearing was carried out.
Bauxite mining is not the only environmental issue besetting the state that raises the question about political will to stamp out perpetrators of environmental degradation.
Early this year, environmental activist R. Ramakrishnan told the that three rivers in Cameron Highlands had been declared biologically dead.
Ramakrishnan, who is also Regional Awareness Cameron Highlands president, said only 10 per cent of 123 rivers in the highlands were in healthy condition due mainly to development projects and agricultural activities.
However, state Public Amenities and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Soffi Abdul Razak dismissed the claim, saying data from the state Department of Environment showed that Sungai Tringkap, Sungai Icat and Sungai Parang were not in Class V, which was the biologically dead category.
Hints that the environmental integrity of Cameron Highlands should be re-looked can be seen on April 9 when two vegetable growers were hauled to the Kuantan Sessions Court over graft.
Later, on May 12, at the same court, two flower plantation owners pleaded guilty to bribing authorities to ignore their illegal smallholdings.
These corruption cases hint at ongoing unsanctioned agricultural activities that have been linked to environmental degradation of the fertile highlands, documented as far back as 2012 in a survey by the Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency.
On May 17, an online news portal carried a statement by Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) that urged the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to disclose the findings of the Pahang Department of Environment on the sources of pollution of Sungai Pahang, Sungai Temerloh, Tasik Chini and Tasik Mentiga.
SAM’s assertion that illegal logging still continues in areas near Tasik Chini flies in the face of the ministry’s finding that there is no illegal logging near the lake, which was once a haven for anglers and where lotus plants grew in abundance.
What is particularly telling is that on March 13, the NST reported that an Orang Asli community leader urged the government to step up efforts to revive the country’s second-largest freshwater lake and increase reforestation measures.
Environmental destruction is a serious matter that needs to be taken seriously as failure to halt it would lead to a negative domino effect.
First, much of the flora and fauna of the affected area would die or deplete, threatening the fragile ecosystem that sustains nature. Second, the quality of life of humans living near the area may be jeopardised as their water supply and air quality would be affected. Third, the industries such as ecotourism and freshwater fish farming, among others, would be negatively affected, further impacting the livelihood of Pahang residents reliant on the state’s bountiful natural environment.
All stakeholders — environmental activists, Orang Asli, urban and rural residents, local authorities and state and federal governments as well as their agencies — must come together to create a positive domino effect to ensure the preservation of mother nature and shared prosperity for us all.