By Murray Hunter
As urban Malaysia has grown and prospered, the rural hinterlands have generally declined. Back in the 1980s approximately 70% of Malaysia’s land was considered rural, where today 72% of Malaysia is urbanized with a growth rate of 2.4%. With this, the rural-urban divide within Malaysia has been growing, where substantially very little is being done to directly alleviate the problem.
Rural sector development has not been debated very much over the last few decades, even though the primary sector still represents almost 12% of GDP and employs more than 11% of the population. There are many rural issues that affect the future of Malaysia in much greater magnitude than the rural contribution to GDP and employment. The sustainability of Malaysia as an eco(n)-system, the country’s cultural basis, and even political destiny is tied up with rural evolution. But the current “health”of rural Malaysia leaves a lot to be desired.
Forest cover in Malaysia is decreasing on a daily basis. Conservation has lost out to greed and development. Palm oil, rubber plantations, and urban expansion are eating into the forests, with very poor land enforcement on the ground. Well connected businesses are able to get concessions that are extremely financially lucrative, at great environmental cost. Roads and new townships have divided rural habitats, playing havoc with biodiversity. These man-made barriers hold flood waters inland during the monsoons, preventing dispersion of water to the sea, causing flooding. Many animal species are in danger of extinction through poaching in the quest to supply the lucrative Chinese medicinal market.
Increasing population and new townships are putting pressure on rivers and waterways through increased domestic sewage, the dumping of garbage, and processing waste from livestock and other agro-based industries. Quarrying has silted many rivers. Soil erosion is depleting soil fertility quicker than it can be regenerated. Burning off around the region is producing thick unhealthy smog, which is affecting the whole country. More....