Malaysia’s Environmental Question

You cannot discuss Malaysia without talking about the peaks of Mount Kinabalu, the coral reefs at Tioman Island and the dense, tropical rainforests that encompass our lands – Malaysia is immensely rich in its biodiversity. This aspect of our country has benefited several sectors – economic, tourism, cultural. But more importantly, our environment is an important climate regulator. However, we are at a dangerous crossroads with regards to environmental preservation – if we keep going on our current trajectory, we could be facing the severe effects of climate change – some of which we’re already noticing!

Yes, development is important and maximising profits is vital for business survival – but at what cost? The environment is irreplaceable, which means its preservation is of utmost importance. And my fellow Malaysians, we’ve been dropping the ball with regards to this aspect.

Let’s have a look at some of the environmental catastrophes that have been on the rise in recent years:

Illegal chemical dumping

Almost every Malaysian, especially those situated in the Klang Valley, has experienced dreadful water cuts due to illegal chemical dumping into our rivers. Factory operators have attempted to reduce their costs by dumping hazardous substances directly into our rivers, resulting in dangerous water qualities. These illegal acts have occurred not just in the Klang Valley but also in Johor and Pahang. These operators are slapped with fines and their operations are shut down but they are obviously undeterred as illegal chemical dumping continues to permeate our country.

Illegal chemical dumping has caused major environmental concerns

It is clear that the administration and law enforcement bodies need to do more to completely eradicate the issue of illegal chemical dumping.

The Environmental Quality Act 1974 is Malaysia’s main legislation aimed at preventing and controlling pollution, as well as setting up punitive systems to hold accountable those who harm our environment. Although it was passed in 1974, it only gained its teeth in 1996, when provisions were included to deal with violators.

However, civil society organisations have demanded that Malaysia strengthens the EQA 1974, imposing heftier fines and other punitive measures to further deter the occurrence of illegal chemical dumping. Meenakshi Raman, president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia, said the EQA has a fundamental problem – even after the 1996 amendments, its fines are insufficient in deterring companies from polluting our lands and water systems.

In essence, the EQA 1974 needs to be reviewed and reformed to effectively enforce its role.

Deforestation

According to United Nations data, Malaysia’s deforestation rate is escalating faster than any other tropical country in the world. From 2001 to 2018, Malaysia lost 26% of its forest cover (about 7.7 million hectares). What are the causes of these worrying statistics? Urbanisation, agricultural fires, logging and more.

Malaysia is home to many types of unique animals – the Orang Utan being one of them.

Deforestation results in the overall degradation of our environment and national identity – increased greenhouse gas emissions, loss of indigenous ancestral land, pollution, soil erosion, extinction of our rare flora and fauna. This list is endless.

Our forests have distinct, natural purposes and without them, our environment, national identity and individual health would be on a steady decline.

The National Forestry Act 1984 and National Forestry Policy 1978 (along with its counterparts in Sabah and Sarawak) are the primary laws governing our nation’s forestry activities. Similarly to the EQA, environmentalists have been urging the government to beef up its forestry laws in efforts to curb deforestation. They demanded harsher penalties, which included jail terms and hefty fines. These would especially help in deterring the main causes of deforestation in Malaysia – illegal logging and plantation expansion.

Under Malaysia’s Constitution, forest management is at the behest of state governments, not the federal government. As such, economic interests have been prioritised over the environment and rights of indigenous people. Perhaps even the Malaysian Constitution requires amendments with regards to forest management.

As a Malaysian citizen, born and bred in the concrete jungle of Kuala Lumpur, it is absolutely devastating to keep witnessing the unending atrocities committed against our environment. Places I visited as a child are now no longer the same and I can’t help but wonder, will we have anything left for our children to experience?

Children picking up waste on a beach in Terengganu

We are incredibly fortunate to be so rich in biodiversity and yet, we are sacrificing all of it for the purposes of profit and development. As the youth of Malaysia, we are the future and we can change the status quo.

If you’re keen on reading law, perhaps focus on environmental law and how you can induce amendments and reform. If you’re interested in journalism, focus on highlighting environmental issues. If you want a career in education, teach your students about the importance of our environment. If you have dreams of becoming an entrepreneur, study ways you can make your business an environmentally friendly one.

It is not too late to save our environment and restore it to its former glory.