One third of Malaysia’s rivers are heavily polluted


KUALA LUMPUR, AFP

One third of Malaysia’s 120 main rivers are highly polluted and the government is planning a nationwide clean-up, reports said Sunday. Environment Minister Law Hieng Ding, quoted by newspapers and Bernama news agency, said the main causes were industrialization, land clearing, livestock farming and squatter homes along riverbanks. In the historic southern town of Malacca, authorities are mounting a beautification program after complaints from tourists on boat trips about the filthy state of the river. More than 100 residents who use the river as a toilet have been given until the end of the year to build proper facilities. Malaysia’s rush to transform itself from a commodity-based economy to a manufacturing center, combined with excessive logging, has taken a heavy toll on the environment in recent decades. Last week the cabinet ordered a suspension of all new development projects in highland areas pending a study on whether there should be a total ban. The directive covers areas including the Cameron Highlands, Fraser’s Hill, the Genting Highlands and the Kota Kinabalu area in Sabah. The suspension was ordered after satellite photos showed that forest cover in the famed Cameron Highlands had decreased by two percent since 1991. The forest clearing is also silting up rivers and affecting hydro-electric plants. A commentary in the New Sunday Times said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had won most of his many battles since taking office. “But one battle he seems not to be winning is against the destruction of the environment.”