Cameron rivers turned into dumps

The site of illegally cleared land in Kampung Raja, Cameron Highlands. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
The site of illegally cleared land in Kampung Raja, Cameron Highlands. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

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CAMERON HIGHLANDS — After the deadly mudfloods which killed five people here seven months ago, the authorities cleared illegal farms and rounded up illegal workers.

However, one thing remains the same: People are still dumping rubbish in and around the highlands’ rivers with RM40 million spent annually to clear sedimentation and rubbish in these rivers. 

Checks by Malay Mail showed numerous dumpsites on the banks of rivers. The rivers were also filled with rubbish.

Among the items spotted were piles of discarded vegetables, plastic sheets, wood, styrofoam containers, construction materials, and even used containers of pesticides.

Regional Environmental Awareness of Cameron Highlands president R. Ramakrishnan said the waste was mainly from agricultural and development activities in the highlands.

He said dumping was not limited to specific areas but happened throughout the formerly idyllic highland getaway.

“It is a problem of mentality. This has been going on for years. It has become worse because the amount of rubbish is increasing along with development.”

The worst dumpsite was along a small road in the Blue Valley area. The dump wound its way along the road, partly covering it with rubbish for almost a kilometre.

Much like the other dumpsites, this was near a river — specifically Sungai Telom.

Ramakrishnan said irresponsible parties would just drive along the road and dump their garbage.

“Catching them is a matter of luck. Sometimes they begin dumping in the afternoon, or evening, and some do it covertly at night.

“Ironically, the landfill to dump rubbish is less than a kilometre from here,” he said.

“If their mentality is not the problem, what else?” he asked.

Ramakrishnan said river pollution was one of the biggest factors contributing to floods in the highlands.

“During heavy rainfall, the rubbish at these dumps falls into the rivers.

“Rubbish will pile up over time and water will not be able to flow smoothly. This is when rivers overflow and cause more destruction,” he said.

There are 126 rivers and tributaries in Cameron Highlands. Most of them flow into the Sultan Abu Bakar Dam which is upstream of Ringlet town.

These include rivers that pass through the towns of Kampung Raja, Kuala Terla, Tringkap, Brinchang and Tanah Rata.

Of the 126 rivers, Ramakrishnan estimated only eight were categorised as Class I or II rivers, which are the healthiest class according to the Water Quality Index.

Three rivers are Class V which effectively means the water is not suitable for any use, including irrigation, even after treatment.

But rubbish dumping is not the only concern. Silt from development projects and land-clearing upstream also contributes to the problem.

Between 300,000 and 500,000 cubic metres of sediment is deposited in Ringlet Lake — almost double the amount in 2008.

Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) blamed last year’s mudfloods on excessive rain which swelled rivers and carried loads of rubbish into Ringlet Lake — the reservoir for the dam.

This caused the lake’s water level to rise by over two metres an hour — more than double the increase during the mudflood in October 2013.

The rapid increase forced TNB to slowly release water from the dam into Sungai Bertam, flooding the nearby areas.

Asked if the problem could be solved by educating the community, Ramakrishnan said only stern and swift action by the authorities could save the highlands from the rubbish menace.

“We have been trying to educate the community for 15 years via numerous awareness programmes. Nothing has changed.

“The government has to introduce heavy fines or even jail terms for polluters.

“The time for education is over. If no drastic action is taken, things will only get worse before they get better.”

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