This is a statement issued by the Global Environment Centre (GEC) with endorsements from local NGOs and communities
Forty-five NGOs (including Sahabat Alam Malaysia) and local communities are calling for the institution of an independent inquiry, and immediate action to identify and penalise parties responsible for the recent massive mudflows and log slides near Karak town in Bentong District in Pahang resulting in massive destruction last week.
The mudflows and log slides which occurred between Dec 18 and 19, 2021, turned rivers, roads and villages into seas of mud and timber debris, has led to destruction and damage of hundreds of houses in several villages and the loss of almost 10 lives to date.
While we acknowledge the swift and immediate action to rescue and help victims of floods, mudflows and log slides over the past week and encourage ongoing action in the future, we, the 45 organisations listed below strongly believe that there is a dire need for a more holistic and cohesive approach towards flood prevention, mitigation and preparedness.
Though climate change has been identified as one of the contributing factors, other possible factors that warrant thorough and immediate investigation and action include checking on possible weak systemic issues on existing infrastructural and support mechanisms facing the country. These include investigating extensive logging and clearance of forests at steep hills along the main range and completely inadequate erosion and sediment controls in these developments. It also must include looking into the possible lack of flood warning and also monitoring conducted over the time.
Bentong District, located on western part of Pahang, bordering Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, comprises of steep forested hills rising to between 1,000 metres and 2,000 metres, is a water catchment of a number of important rivers in Western Pahang including the Telemong, Bentong and Semantan Rivers. These forests are also Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs), important for biodiversity conservation and forming part of the Central Forest Spine (CFS) Conservation Zone.
In recent years, large-scale logging and forest clearance activities for durian and forest plantations have been taking place in this region, with many cases these developments have been undertaken without Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and little or no environmental mitigation and control measures in place. Clearing has been undertaken 2 on steep slopes without erosion control measures and river buffer zones have been cleared completely and planted. Logging has also been undertaken in ESAs and also within communities, including the Orang Asli settlements.
Local communities as well as environmental and social NGOs have been highlighting their strong concerns on these activities and the risks they pose to the rivers, water supplies, cultural and environmental features of the area. Since September 2020, several communities and NGOs have been protesting the logging and land clearing near Sg Gapoi and Sg Telemong to the south of Karak and highlighting the risk to water supply, safety and environmentally sensitive areas.
When the heavy downpour occurred from Dec 17 to 19, there was relatively little intact forest remaining to slow the flow of the water, and instead massive amounts of soil, logs and forest debris were washed rapidly downstream leading to catastrophic impacts in Karak, Bentong and many surrounding villages and residential areas. In many cases, walls of mud, logs and forest debris swept down the valleys and devastated the communities. The muddy water rapidly rose so high that many houses submerged without warning and many were badly damaged as a result of the floating logs and other debris. Logs were also jammed under bridges, blocking the rivers and forcing the water and mud to overflow into the surrounding area causing further damage.
At Kg Sri Telemong, a wall of water, mud and logs smashed over the main road and bridge and swept away a pick-up truck trying to carry 16 people to safety. Although 10 people managed to escape the raging waters with some injuries, five lost their lives and one remains missing. In Bentong, four people were killed when a wave of mud buried a resort in more than three metres of mud. In other villages like Kg Sg Perdak, massive logs eight metres long with a diameter of two metres demolished houses, cars and electric poles like they were toys. In addition to the severe destruction, hundreds or thousands of houses were damaged and locals lost their belongings and necessities such as water, electricity, and so on. One week later, roads and rivers are still blocked, people are still missing and many of those remaining have yet to receive adequate assistance and are still in major distress.
The nearby Karak Highway was blocked in three places by floodwater, mud and forest debris, cutting the main east west transportation artery for days. In one location two entire lanes were completely blocked with mud and timbers of more than one-metre high for the length of at least two kilometres. Further downstream, the entire Mentakab town was flooded with more than two metres of muddy water for several days. Overall, these floods and mudflows have cost hundreds of millions of ringgit in economic, social and environmental damage. Post flood and disaster recovery actions may take months and require sizable budget allocations. The impact of this incident is expected to linger for at least 10 years.
Just across the hills to the west in Selangor State, the rain was just as heavy, and the slopes were just as steep, but there were no reports of mudflows or log debris, since Selangor designated the forests as the Selangor State Park and banned logging 10 years ago. The forests protected the slopes and soil, reduced the runoffs and prevented floods and damage in the East parts of the state although there were serious floods in the lowlands.
We strongly believe that the main factors in the catastrophe in Bentong District was the widespread logging and clearing of land in hilly areas in the landscape and lack of proper erosion controls or flood warning measures and lack of monitoring and enforcement; combined with the heavy rainfall.
With regard to the disaster in Bentong District, we urge for cohesive and coordinated efforts among the Malaysian Federal and State governments to:
a) Establish an independent inquiry into the massive floods, mudflows and logslides and associated damage to property and loss of lives and livelihood in Bentong District to identify the root causes and recommend immediate and medium term actions to repair the damage and prevent any recurrence;
b) Impose an immediate moratorium on any further approval for clearance of forests and sloping land in Bentong District as well as halt any ongoing logging or land clearing operations pending the outcome of the proposed inquiry;
c) Undertake an immediate review of compliance with forestry, environmental and land management regulations by respective land owners and managers in Bentong District and take swift action to bring any party that has beached regulations to justice and provide appropriate compensation to impacted communities;
d) Allocate budgets or establish a fund to support the post flood recovery plan, which includes rebuilding of the destroyed villages and properties, enhance the community welfare, including their physiology aspect and establishment of community-based rehabilitation of the forests and rivers of the region. We suggest the establishment of official community-based patrol teams as on-the-ground eyes and ears to monitor, report and share information.
We further call for action at a national level to:
a) Incorporate the experience and lessons learned into Malaysia’s forest, land and flood mitigation plans as well as the proposed Climate Change Adaptation Plan.
b) Establish effective forest and river catchment conservation and restoration action plans or policies responses tailored at the Mukim, District and State levels and new methods for monitoring and enforcement of forest and catchment protection.
c) Start a catchment protection, tree planting and river restoration programme that can contribute to reducing flood risks as part of a wider flood risk management approach, including conventional flood defenses
d) Develop and implement Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) for all river basins in the country avoid development in floodplains, lowland areas, river reserves, wetlands and peatland areas to act to retain excess water and reduce floods. This includes taking into account the impact on the community’s livelihood and identifying alternative livelihood options for them.
e) Develop and establish integrated fast and effective monitoring, and information dissemination system to enhance and alert the public at the earliest possible on any disaster.
f) Establish more cross-sectoral partnerships for mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into development planning, promoting risk-informed investment, and strengthening urban and rural resilience, as a result of climate-induced disaster in an ever changing environment.
This statement is endorsed by the following:
1. Alliance of River Three
2. Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia
3. Belia di Bawah Bayu
4. Caring Asian Women (CAW)
5. Centre for independent journalism (CIJ)
6. Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
7. CERAH – Anti Haze Action
8. Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM)
9. Five Arts Centre
10. Friends of Bukit Kiara
11. Friends of Klang River Basin
12. Gabungan Darurat Iklim Malaysia (GDIMY)
13. Global Environment Centre
14. Global Water Partnership
15. Greenpeace Malaysia
16. Jaringan Ekologi dan Iklim (JEDI)
17. Malaysian Nature Society (Pahang branch)
18. Malaysian Nature Society (Selangor branch)
19. North South Initiative
20. Parti Sosialis Malaysia
21. Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
22. Persatuan Benih Hijau
23. Pertubuhan Alam Sekitar Sejahtera Malaysia – GRASS
24. Persatuan Kesedaran dan Keadilan Iklim Malaysia (Klima Action Malaysia – KAMY)
25. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
26. Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar Kuala Langat
27. Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (PEKA)
28. Pertubuhan Sahabat Gambut Asli Temuan (SGAT)
29. Pertubuhan Sahabat Hutan Bakau Kampung Dato’ Hormat (SHBKDH)
30. Pertubuhan Sahabat Hutan Bakau Kuala Gula (SHBKG)
31. Pertubuhan Sahabat Hutan Bakau Pasir Panjang Laut (SHBPPL)
32. Pertubuhan Sahabat Hutan Bakau Pulau Tanjung Surat (SHBPTS)
33. Pertubuhan Sahabat Hutan Gambut Selangor Utara (SHGSU)
34. Pusat KOMAS
35. Rimba Disclosure Project
36. Sahabat Alam Malaysia
37. Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All Sabah (SERATA)
38. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
39. Sustainable Development Network Malaysia (SUSDEN Malaysia)
40. Treat Every Environment Special Sdn Bhd (TrEES)
42. Universiti Malaya Students’ Union
43. Water Watch Penang
44. Wetlands InternationalMalaysia
For more information, please contact Global Environment Centre (GEC):
Dr Kalithasan Kailasam
Mobile: +6010-366 9772
Mr Nagarajan Rengasamy
Mobile: +6012-296 8438
Ms Linda Archibald
Mobile: +6012-282 2192
Ms Ummi Nur Asyiqeen
Mobile: +6013-509 9510