PETALING JAYA: Visitors to the secluded town of Merapoh in Pahang, once reputed for being surrounded by verdant rainforests and unspoilt traditional villages, would be in for shock if they travelled there today.
The pollution-free paradise has been largely destroyed by rampant and uninhibited logging and mining.
A visit by FMT recently found residents reeling from massive commercial exploitation of the surrounding natural resources.
The activities have dented their eco-tourism businesses which formed major sources of income in at least eight nearby villages inhabited by some 100,000 people.
“There is no more greenery here. Everything has been plundered by the greedy loggers,” said villager Sabri Zoo, 36.
“The worst impact of the timber activities in Merapoh has been the water from the stream that we drink. It has become dirty.
“When it rains we are forced to use murky and muddy water because we don’t have any other choice,” he said.
Located near Taman Negara, the tropical rainforests between Merapoh and Gua Musang in Kelantan are estimated to be millions of years old and home to hundreds of species, including the rare Rafflesia plant.
The area is also blessed with limestone caves, waterfalls and scenic views of the mountains.
Many of the hills contain animal fossils from as far back as the Permian–Triassic extinction event of 251 million year ago.
It is understood that much of the logging activities cover close to 669 ha around Gua Hari Malaysia, with a total of 200 ha of rainforest already having been cleared.
“Many tourists have cancelled their trips here. They hope to see green jungles but what they find here now are muddy patches and bald hills,” Sabri said.
He said each tour group of eight to 12 people used to pay RM150 for a day trip to visit the natural attractions in the area.
“Today it is hard to even earn RM50 a day. We do not know what else to do to for our income, except to tap rubber trees,” he said.
The crisis has drawn the attention of environmental groups like Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka), Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and the Save Merapoh Cave Foundation.
Peka president Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said an investigation showed that logging operators had not submitted any environmental impact assessment to the department of environment (DoE).
“The logging and gold mining operations have devastated the ecosystem of Merapoh,” she told FMT.
“They have caused enormous damage to the water supply for the residents of the Batu Yon sub-district and people of Merapoh,” she said.
She said the water in the river had become so unclean, exceeding 1,000 NTU (nephelometric turbidity units), that it had become untreatable at the main water filtration facility there.
Shariffa added that the loss of trees had removed the natural buffer that protected Sungai Merapoh, causing it to become polluted.
She said she was worried the area might be hit by a severe flood like the one in Hulu Kelantan in late 2014, an area which had also seen extensive logging. The floods there had caused damage to more than 2,000 houses with total losses estimated at over RM200 million.