Group 3a- Ann, Becca, Gamai, Katia, and Lina
Ecological Challenges of Malaysia:
Energy, Deforestation, Coral Reefs, Water, and Air Pollution
In the past few decades, South East Asia has developed and moved towards
modernization at unsurpassed rates. During the course of our research, we discovered that
the South East Asian country of Malaysia serves as a model blueprint of the ecological
challenges facing the continent as a whole. Thus, for the purpose of this project, we have
chosen to focus attention on Malaysia, while maintaining an understanding that although
there is some variance in statistics and industry, the ecological degradation found in
Malaysia can be found throughout South East Asia. We have identified five categories of
ecological relevance and concern and will them expound upon them as follows: Energy,
Deforestation, Coral Reefs, Water, and Air Pollution.
As with most countries in South East Asia, Malaysia has moved from a traditional
fuel based (firewood, charcoal and agricultural waste) economy to a fossil fuel based one.
Malaysia currently relies mainly upon crude oil, natural gas and coal extracted from the
fuel-rich region in addition to some small imports of coal from Indonesia and Australia.
However, since the late 19th century, Malaysia has produced most of its own energy
resources and has supplied industrialized countries with the majority of their tin, palm oil,
timber, oil and liquefied natural gas.
Since the 1970’s however, development and industrialization of the general
region has caused a dramatic increase in Malaysia’s energy consumption and,
consequently, a dramatic increase of negative environmental impact. This was an indirect
cause of the Industrial Revolution in the West that demanded ever-larger supplies of raw
materials for their growing populations. Malaysia and the South East Asian region was
well placed to respond to this demand with ample supplies of resources and a close
proximity to major trade routes. The country has seen coal consumption increase at an
average annual yearly rate of 28% from 1980 to 1993 with similar trends for oil. This is
an astounding increase that shows the incredible speed at which Malaysia is developing
and degrading their environment.
Although the population of Malaysia is considerably smaller than that of the
United States, 26 million versus 304 million, the land area of the country must be taken
into account as well. The total land area of the United States is about 9,161,923 sq km
while Malaysia is a mere 328,550 square kilometers. In the US there are about 33 people
per square kilometer, while in Malaysia there are about 77 people per square kilometer.
This is more than twice the population density. Subsequently, the environmental impacts
will twice as devastating because each additional person strains the carrying capacities at
twice the rate. Because the land area in the US is considerably large, the potential for
rejuvenation over a long enough period of time is likely, while in Malaysia, such a small
land mass will be very difficult to clean up once it is degraded.
One of the approaches Malaysia has taken toward alternate energy is
hydroelectric power. Because there many rivers that run through Malaysia, constituting
99% of the water used in Malaysia, large dams have been built along the rivers to create
reservoirs where water is captured and treated in plants. These plants are owned by the
government and private companies and then transported by a system of pipes for human
consumption and the production of hydroelectricity. Although hydroelectric power is a
good alternative to using fossil fuels to produce energy, large dams like these in Malaysia
have many negative environmental impacts. They have displaced tens of thousands of
people, destroyed native plant and animal habitats, and require enormous amounts of
energy and materials to build. If Malaysia continues to use fossil fuels as their main
supply of power/energy and does not look further than hydroelectricity, the negative
social and environmental effects that come from using these approaches will be further
One of the most visible examples of ecological degradation caused by rapid
development is deforestation. The deforestation of Malaysia’s old growth, tropical forests
is a growing problem for Malaysia nd South East Asia as a whole. With 63 percent of
Malaysia consisting of such forests, and 6.6 percent of that having been cut down
between 1990 and 2005, it is evident that due to its rapid rise toward modernization, the
Malaysian government has let a push towards economic growth disintegrate the need for
Due to the high demand for tropical timber as a luxury wood, the majority of
logging in Malaysia is purely for profit. There are many Malaysian based companies,
such as Acmeco Ventures, that produce and export Malaysia’s tropical forests as
laminated scanting, hardwood, sawn timber, moldings, and other wood based products.
Although the Malaysian government claims to be focusing increased energy toward
creating a more “sustainable” logging industry, evidences of this newfound commitment
are slim to non-existent. One of the few fruitions of this claim has been the formation of
the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB), implemented to regulate and control the
timber trade, including marketing, distribution, and oversight of the transition towards
sustainability. Despite the hope for change that MTIB represents, because the board has
not been widely publicized by any organization outside of the Malaysian government, it
has become suspect by organizations such as Greenpeace for corruption and insolvency.
If MTIB were accessible and accountable to non-governmental evaluations from other
organizations and companies, the physical proof of transitions toward sustainability
could cure suspicions and accusations of corruption.
Another large contributor to Malaysia’s deforestation is for the development of oil
palm plantations. Oil Palm is harvested for its fruit and subsequently turned into palm
oil, the most productive oil seed in the world. The demand for palm oil has risen due to
its potential as an edible vegetable oil as well as a viable biofuel source. Due to this fact,
it is obvious how a nation such as Malaysia, so completely engrossed with economic
expansion, stands powerless to such a lucrative crop. It is important to note however, that
there will be severe consequences for South East Asia and the world if the current
expansion of Malaysia’s logging and oil palm plantations continue at their present rate.
Trees are an enormous reservoir for carbon dioxide, and the decreasing rates of
trees means an increasing rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which will intensify
the green house effect and thus significantly contribute to a rise in global warming. The
forests of Malaysia are also home to many species, two of which, the orangutan and the
elephant, are severely affected by increasing rates of deforestation. Since the trees are no
longer available to take up the excess water during the monsoon seasons, decreased forest
covering also affects flooding. It is evident from all of the negative affects deforestation
has on Malaysia and the world as a whole that the Malaysian and other South East Asian
governments needs to rethink the rapid rate of economic expansion and modernization
and take up more sustainable practices before the affects of deforestation leave their
continent helpless to its economic problems.
Although less visible, another ecological disaster induced by rapid
industrialization is the loss of coral reefs throughout Malaysia and surrounding areas.
Coral reefs are aragonite structures produced by living organisms. They live in water less
then 100ft. deep in tropical nutrient-less waters between 30degrees north and 30degrees
south of the equator. They are considered to be the oceans most diverse ecosystems and
are often called the rainforests of the sea. South East Asia is home to about 40,000
square miles of coral reef and over 80% of these reefs are considered to be at risk, with
56% at high risk. Malaysia alone has about 4,000km of reefs and is home to many
diverse species and types of coral. This is a pertinent ecological issue because millions of
people relay on the coral, and the ecosystems surrounding coral, for their livelihoods.
Tourism, the live tropical fish trade, seafood sales, as well as people’s everyday
needs are all dependent on corals. Although many Malaysians rely on corals for survival,
humans and human activities are the leading threat to coral reefs. Poverty, tourism,
marine activities, fishing practices, fish trade, costal/economic development, and global
warming are all threats to corals. However, all these activities are inter-connected and
they all affect each other. If the destruction of coral reefs does not cease, millions of
people will be out of work and essentially unable to make a living and survive. Malaysia
and South East Asia will suffer greatly if corals continue to be destroyed.
Some steps toward protecting the reefs have been taken, but they are by no means
sufficient. The main strategy in protecting reefs has been the establishment of marine
protection areas that protect fish species and habitat. Another successful strategy
implemented in Papua New Guinea involved banning fishing entirely from certain high
risk areas and allowing line fishing in other areas with little to no risk. This has lead to
larger biomass and fish sizes in these areas. However, many of the risks to coral reefs are
from outside sources. Poverty, pollution, the demand for exotic live and dead fish,
tourism, costal development, and farming practices all cause coral reef destruction.
Problems such as these will not be fixed by creating marine protection areas. The risks to
coral reefs are all associated with larger problems that are both effected by and affect
global climate change.
In order to solve the problem of coral destruction larger societal changes must be
made to elevate poverty, and change farming, development, and fishing practices. Issues
causing global warming must also be addressed. Saving corals is much more then just
creating marine protection areas, aspects of the whole society must be changed and the
rate of industrialization and development must be brought to balance.
Ironically, Malaysia’s rapid development in the last decade is due in part to its
abundant water resources. Increases in water sanitation and better control of water born
diseases have contributed to the improved health and prosperity of Malaysian people.
However, because of Malaysia’s fast growing population and expansion of industry the
country is wreaking an increasingly negative impact on the environment. The growing
population, movement to urban areas, industrialization and the expansion of irrigated
agriculture puts great pressure on the water supply and contributes to its pollution. The
greatest human health risks due to water pollution are from sewage, agricultural and toxic
chemicals, and heavy metals from industry, and solid waste landfill sites. Septic tanks,
especially in rural areas, are often not maintained properly and many times this untreated
sewage is released into water sources.
Global climate change will also have a negative effect on the water supply in
Malaysia. In all of South East Asia, global warming will change water flow patterns and
increase the severity of floods, droughts and storms. Droughts reduce supply of drinking
water while floods destroy the water quality because the rising ocean levels increase the
amount of salt in the rivers. Flooding in Malaysia in the past has displaced many people
and caused hundreds of million dollars in damage.
Perhaps the most recognizable effect of industrialization in Malaysia and across
South East Asia is the alarmingly high levels of air pollution. Kuala Lampur Metropolitan
Area is the major urban area in Malaysia, comprised of a number of cities, large towns
and larger urban areas that, through population growth and physical expansion, have
merged to form one continuous urban and industrially developed area. It is also known as
the Klang Valley. Some of the main sources of air pollution are the region-wide haze
crisis, Indonesian forest and brush fires aggravated by indigenous pollutants, vehicle
emissions, factory smoke, and open burning.
According to the Annual Report of the Road Transport Department of Malaysia,
the number of registered road vehicles had increased from more than 6.8 million in 1995
to more than 12.2 million in March 2003. A study from the Department of Environment
(DOE) in 1996 showed that motor vehicles contributed 82% to air pollution. With The
population of the Asia-Pacific region over 3.1 billion people as of 1990, and predicted
according to medium range United Nations estimate to reach 4.9 billion people by 2025,
a decrease in mobile pollution is not foreseen.
As of 2008, the Malaysian Energy Efficiency Improvement Programme predicts
that rapid population increase, economic growth, increased energy consumption, etc., in
the Asia-Pacific region will lead to increasing environmental burden, such as increased
carbon dioxide emission, on a global scale. Commercial energy in the Malaysian
industrial sector extensively uses combustion fuel to power machineries and has
contributed massively to the emission of CO2, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
Studies show that if left unchecked, the emission of these gases can exacerbate global
warming and lead to the environmental destruction and health hazards. However, as is the
case across South East Asia and other developing countries, due to low cost, absence of
incentive, and lack of support system, factory management sees no reason to reduce
energy consumption (MEEIP).
Having considered Malaysia’s five most persistent ecological challenges, one
common theme has become evident: rapid industrialization and a lack of infrastructure to
balance or control ecological degradation. Ten years ago, The Washington Post reported
how in “Southeast Asia's breakneck race to development -- an effort that has produced
impressive 8 to 10 percent growth in the last decade -- the environment has become a
principal casualty.” The report continued to state a speculation that today, ten years
later, our report has proven to be painfully accurate: “For most governments around
Southeast Asia, the imperative of rapid economic development and concern for the
environment have seemed like contradictory goals.”