Penang’s environment threatened by rapid and unsustainable development


CAP and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) find that the beauty of Penang’s natural environment is slowly losing its shine due to the rapid pace of development.

In conjunction with the World Environment Day on 5th June, CAP and SAM in a protest against rapid and unsustainable development today urged the state government to do the needful in ensuring that each proposed development that is implemented does not affect the environment and the lives of local residents.

Based on observation and complaints received by CAP and SAM, we find that we are losing our greenery in some places and environmental pollution is still prevalent despite the Penang Government’s initiative for a Cleaner, Greener Penang.

Our rivers and sea are polluted by industrial effluents, sewage and rubbish. River water quality monitoring as stated in the Penang State Department of Environment Annual Report for 2011 reveals that 10 out of 24 rivers in the seven river basins in the state of Penang is classified as polluted, out of which six are in Class IV of the Water Quality Index.  Nine rivers were moderately polluted, whilst five were still considered clean.

Good water quality is important for a healthy river and ecosystem which would then thrive with aquatic life. Due to the pollution problem, riverine fisheries have dwindled except in a few clean rivers such as in Sungai Kerian.

Monitoring of marine water quality in 2011 had found highest readings of Escherichia coli in Kuala Sungai Pinang (Jelutong), Kuala Sungai Pinang (Balik Pulau), Kuala Sungai Perai and Kuala Sungai Juru (Source: Penang DOE Annual Report 2011). E. coli, a bacteria found in the gut of warm blooded animals, is an indicator of fecal contamination in fresh waters. The main source of pollution identified is pollutants in the rivers’ outflow from the discharge of domestic sewage in residential areas and business premises.

Coastal reclamation and aquaculture activities in the state have also contributed to the destruction of the natural coastal ecosystem.  Approximately 70% of mangrove forests here have been destroyed by development projects. Some beaches that were once sandy beaches are now mudflats such as in Gurney Drive. All these threats to the environment has led to at least 40 species of river and marine life to be endangered or extinct.

Meanwhile, forest destruction to implement development projects have also resulted in loss of water catchments. Mud floods have become quite rampant in some villages and housing estates due to soil erosion and sedimentation from development projects on hill slopes for example in Balik Pulau and Bayan Lepas. Many residents staying near hills such as in Sungai Ara and Tanjung Bungah have appealed to the State Government and MPPP to cancel the proposed projects on hill slopes.

We are concerned that rapid development in Penang will lower the quality of life of the people. We must understand that our growth rates will bring about social, economic and environmental challenges. With continued industrialization and sprawling housing development even on hills, the health of Penang’s ecosystem is in danger of deterioration if left unchecked.

We need to ensure that our hills are protected from further development, our rivers and the air is clean and our quality of life is improved. Hence, CAP urges the Penang state government and local authorities to stringently enforce existing regulations.

Continuous monitoring needs to be done to ensure pollution is curbed. The state is also urged to gazette all forests and mangroves as permanent reserved forests and not allow any development projects on hills and agricultural land.

Besides enforcing the Environmental Quality Act 1974, the Department of Environment should increase the delivery and effectiveness of its environmental education programmes to encourage community participation.

The people of Penang should play their role in keeping Penang really Clean and Green. All of us have to play our part to ensure a better life for us and our future generation.

Press Statement, 4 June 2012