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					Malaysia Report
Group 3a- Ann, Becca, Gamai, Katia, and Lina
Prof. Zavestoski
SOC 350

                                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

sustainable infrastructure.

       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.”