September 24, 2015

When will Illegal Bauxite Mining in Malaysia be Shut Down?

When will Illegal Bauxite Mining in Malaysia be Shut Down?

The ravages of bauxite mining are taking over some Malaysian landscapes. Photo Credit: DRONE Pahang

Illegal bauxite mining is quickly degrading life of all kinds in Malaysia.  The country’s people, environment, and potential for development are all suffering from a rush of poorly regulated mining operations – but despite promises to shut down mines, politicians have not been taking action.

Pahang, a populous state in Peninsular Malaysia, has been hit especially hard by the bauxite rush.

“The increase in bauxite mining activities in recent times has contributed to the increase in a number of health complications, such as respiratory and allergy problems. This is not good in the long run, as it can lead to cancer,” said Pahang’s Deputy Health Minister Dr Himli Yahaya in early August.

Respiratory and allergy problems barely scratch the surface of bauxite pollution.  Due to bad industry regulation, bauxite dust laden with heavy metals and radioactive material is seeping into water and soil, poisoning plants, animals and people.

“We have tested various samples. Fish, vegetables, etc… and found heavy metals and arsenic in some of them,” said Dr Himli.  The implications are that continued mining will result in long-term contamination and environmental catastrophe.

At the epicenter of this pollution epidemic is Pahang’s capital of Kuantan.  The port town has become a hotbed for mining and shipping, and its waters – on which fishermen depend and from which citizens get their meals – are becoming increasingly toxic.

Under orders from Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar visited several bauxite-mining locations in Kuantan in August 2015 to decide their future.  Over a month after the visits, no action has been taken.  Politicians are instead deflecting the issue, saying that shutting down the mines would deprive workers of income.  This is quite a change of tune from the opinions on bauxite mining earlier this year:

Small regulation changes have been made, but they are not nearly enough to stop the pollution.  Lorrie drivers loaded with dust-spewing bauxite are “required to take certain roads,” but this doesn’t always happen – and when it does, it only saves city centers from the dust, not rivers and soil.

Perhaps bauxite mining is indeed too vital to Malaysia’s economy to be shut down, but if it isn’t shut down, it must be better regulated.

“Immediate action to address the problem is very much needed,” said Pahang’s Dr Himli back in August.  His statement is even more appropriate today.  If Malaysia is to avoid potential disaster, government must either regulate or shut down bauxite mining.

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