Science in motion: Rain, landslides, floods and ecotourism
When students begin school, they learn about the environment through the three Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — which is not necessarily within the science curriculum, but also broadly as discussions or topics in language classes. All schools now have recycling bins for waste to be separated into general refuse, paper and plastic.
Many schools have taken it a step further by setting up herb gardens and selling the produce to the community to fund projects. Efforts are being made to turn their canteen waste into compost, which is then used as fertiliser for their herbs, plants and gardens — thus making the school landscape sustainable and conducive to learning.
Students also learn why littering has a negative impact on health and the environment, and that a clean culture is a pleasurable trait to have. State education departments initiate annual school competitions with the objective of encouraging students to adopt and practise lifelong care for the environment.
The effects of climate change, overpopulation, rising temperatures and sea levels, massive flooding, natural disasters and so on can no longer be ignored and every Malaysian is duty-bound to make every possible effort to minimise the effect of such calamities, at least within our neighbourhoods and communities. Some neighbourhoods now have a weekly recycling day, when residents clean and separate their recyclables to be collected and repurposed. Social enterprises, too, actively seek recyclables either to resell, donate, reuse — or even turn cloth scraps into blankets for refugees — in order to reduce the load on landfills.
A staggering 92% (higher than the global average of 81%) of Malaysians polled by market research firm IPSOS believe that the use of disposable and non-recyclable products is a major environmental issue. Yet the fact that Johor has among the dirtiest rivers in the world is contradictory to this awareness. The “dead” Sungai Tebrau is the world’s 53rd most polluted river, as ranked by non-governmental organisation The Ocean Cleanup, followed by Sungai Skudai, Kim Kim and the aptly named Tengkorak (skull).
Malaysia experiences the Northeast Monsoon, which normally occurs during the December school holidays. While the children enjoy playing in the floodwaters, it is an inconvenience for families as the water damages homes, resulting in disruption of work. The preservation of our forest reserves is even more crucial now with heavier rainfall expected. We need forests not just for flood mitigation but also to fulfil our global responsibility to reduce carbon emissions.
But with climate change, the floods are getting more intense, the damage is catastrophic and more lives are being lost. These effects are exacerbated by logging for the construction industry, which the authorities claim is legal. There must be strict controls and enforcement, reasonable limits, sustainable practices and methods to ensure that logging waste, such as mounds of old branches and twigs which have no saleable value, is disposed of properly and carefully. In the floods in Kedah last year, and in Hulu Langat, Selangor, and Bentong, Pahang, recently, debris from logged trees was caught in bridges in the path of the floodwaters. If not for these barricades, they would have caused even greater untold damage to homes and eventually flowed into the sea, producing effects similar to a full-blown tsunami.
The tragedy at Gunung Jerai in Yan, Gurun, and Merbok in Kedah in August last year was a wake-up call that no one woke up to. It affected 20 villages and 800 families, taking four lives while two people remain missing. It brought back vivid memories of what happened in the Orang Asli settlement in Pos Dipang, Perak, in 1996, which claimed 44 lives with five bodies never found. Not to forget the 2014 floods in Kelantan, which killed 21. The recent December landslides, floods and resultant catastrophes, particularly in Selangor and Pahang, have claimed 48 lives with still some people missing. The floods destroyed homes, displaced families and caused the loss of thousands of livestock and pets. Numerous farms were also lost, disrupting the supply chain and food security.
Granted that Kedah, Kelantan and Pahang gain significant revenue from logging, it may not be realistic to halt logging altogether as these states rely heavily on this source of income. The financial minds of the government may need to recommend monetary compensation, which is justifiable if lives, property and livelihoods are to be saved. Incidentally, Pahang has 57% of the total gazetted forest reserve acreage in Peninsular Malaysia. Potential lost revenue from logging may be compensated for by federal government-backed ecotourism for nature lovers and adventurers from all over the world. Similarly, Kedah and Kelantan may seek financial help to fund other income generating ventures that will also surely create a significant number of jobs.
Students learn that Peninsular Malaysia has one of the oldest rainforests in the world — about 130 million years old. This means that the forests, once upon a time, may have had dinosaurs roaming in them. Malaysians would want to see the rainforests live for another 130 million years.