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Deforestation Exacerbates Malaysian Flood Damage

Hillside Homes Add to Malaysian Flood Woes

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia, April 27, 2001 (ENS) - The effects of recent flooding in Malaysia have been worsened by deforestation in the country's highlands, according to World Wide Fund for Nature, which has called on the government to regulate highland development.

Floods have caused damage in the Selangor region on Peninsular Malaysia. Malaysia is divided by the South China Sea into Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak in North Borneo.

Petaling Jaya, to the west of the capital Kuala Lumpur, and Kampung Baru Ringlet in the Cameron Highlands, were the hardest hit by the floods. Petaling Jaya is one of the most densely populated areas of Selangor.

According to the Selangor government, 877,318 people live in Petaling district's 48,432 hectares (119,678 acres) - a population density of 18.11 people per hectare, and more than four times the average for Selangor.

The clearance of hillside land for new homes to accommodate Petaling Jaya's growing population is increasing the damage done by heavy rain in low lying areas of the city, says WWF.

"Widening and deepening drains in the city will not solve the problem," said Dr K. Ramadasan, WWF's Forests for Water, Water for Life (FWWL) program director.

"Our rivers are silted as a result of indiscriminate land clearing upstream," said Ramadasan. "This is all brought to our doorstep when it rains heavily."

The FWWL program wants Malaysian authorities to conduct indepth studies to produce policies and strategies to "safeguard the sanctity of highlands" where the main water catchment areas are located.

Ramadasan said highland ecosystems are extremely fragile and are the main source of water in the region's lowlands.

In the center of Peninsular Malaysia, the Cameron Highlands, have long been popular as an escape from the hot and humid conditions at sea level. The area is the center of Malaysia's tea industry and is popular with tourists who come for jungle walks, waterfalls and the colonial nostalgia of the highland hill stations.

Ramadasan called on the authorities to investigate the cumulative effects of highland development and its impact on water catchment areas and the quality of water supply to homes. Doing nothing could be inviting disaster, he added.

Floods and landslides are symptoms of an ailing ecosystem and failure to act early will result in a major environmental catastrophe, he said.

On April 11, the Selangor government announced an immediate freeze on applications for hillside development, while allowing applications approved prior to April 11 to continue. The freeze is on all projects on 25 degree gradients and will remain in effect until a hillside drainage study is completed.

Frequent flooding elsewhere in Selangor is a problem. Residents in Kajang district, southeast of Kuala Lumpur, presented a 104 page report to authorities today, documenting seven years of flooding problems, which began after homes were built in upstream areas.

Resident spokesman Alan Liew told Metro KL newspaper that people living in an area known as Taman Murni had been hit by flash floods five times this April. Liew said a Kajang Municipal Council plan to build a monsoon drain last year was halted after three months because of contractual problems.