KUALA LUMPUR — A report published on Monday listed Malaysians as the biggest per capita users of plastic packaging in a region responsible for more than half the plastic litter in the world’s oceans. The report by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) covers China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, which together account for “around 60 per cent of plastic debris entering the ocean.” The average Malaysian uses 16.78 kilograms of plastic packaging each year, according to WWF estimates, with Thailand next at 15.52 kg per person per annum. “Rapid economic growth has led to an immense increase in the use of plastic, especially for packaging consumer goods,” the WWF stated, linking plastic use with rising affluence across the region.
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s hopes of exporting 500 million ringgit (120 million dollars) worth of durian a year to China could be stalled by the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than a thousand people. With much of central China under lockdown and commerce slow to revive after the Chinese New Year, Malaysian growers are noticing falling demand and prices. “People are not working in parts of China, people are not going out, not spending – demand is down,” said Jimmy Loke, owner of Jimmy’s Durian Orchard in the region of Pahang, east of Kuala Lumpur. Prices in the region have dropped by “around a quarter” since the outbreak, Loke said.
KUALA LUMPUR — Pakistan plans to import more Malaysian palm oil to make up for losses incurred since India imposed informal restrictions on Malaysian imports last month. Speaking alongside visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan today, Malaysian Premier Mahathir Mohamad said Pakistan is “quite ready” to import more of the commodity from Malaysia. Khan in turn thanked Mahathir for speaking out against New Delhi’s policies in Kashmir, a disputed Muslim-majority region divided between India and Pakistan, and said his country will “try its best to compensate” Malaysia for India’s apparent retaliation. Mahathir has also accused the Indian government of discriminating against Muslims.
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin announced on Jan. 20 that her country has returned almost 4,000 tonnes of plastic rubbish to mostly Western countries in recent months. “We do not want to be the garbage bin of the world,” the minister said, warning would-be sending countries to “dream on” if they expect Malaysia to recycle their rubbish for them. The cost of repatriating the rubbish from Malaysia will be borne by sending countries and shippers, Yeo said, echoing her counterparts in the Philippines and Indonesia, countries that have also reacted furiously to the trade in foreign plastic rubbish and sought to make senders pay for shipping their garbage back to where it came from. Since China banned the import of plastic waste for recycling in 2017, Southeast Asia has become a magnet for the largely-illegal trade, while images of fields of plastic rubbish bobbing on turquoise seas and of stinking plastic-engorged landfills have fueled concerns about a worldwide “plastics crisis,” with China, estimated to be the world’s biggest source of plastic pollution, becoming the latest country to ban single-use plastics on Jan. 19. This stern “polluters-will-pay-a-price” message is the subject of a new study by the World Economic Forum and PwC, one of the world’s “Big Four” accounting firms. Not only are polluters likely to see their good names tarnished or face financial sanctions, businesses and governments are shooting themselves in the foot by damaging the environment upon which some commercial activity depends.
PHNOM PENH – With horror images showing fields of plastic rubbish bobbing on turquoise seas around the world, one could be forgiven for welcoming the sight of one of the world’s great rivers turning a fresh blue. However the azure hue seen in recent weeks along stretches of the Mekong is stirring concerns that dozens of hydroelectric dams, the biggest of which are in China, are interrupting the river’s natural flow and blocking sediment that should be carried to farmland downriver that helps feed 60 million people. Earlier this month the Mekong River Commission, a regional intergovernmental body, put the colour change down to “extremely low flow, slow drop in the river sediments,” after warning last month that the Mekong region could face serious drought over the turn of the year.
BANGKOK — A confluence of drought and dams along the Mekong River has renewed concerns about the future of the 4,763 kilometer waterway, upon which tens of millions of people depend for their livelihoods in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The number of dams impeding the Mekong’s flow is fast multiplying, drying up segments of the once fast-flowing river and leaving the region facing imminent drought, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a regional intergovernmental body that aims to jointly manage the river’s water resources. “China’s operators of the Jinghong Dam and the Thai operators of the newly opened Xayaburi dam in Laos conducted operations that actually exacerbated the drought,” said Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Stimson Center, a US think tank. “Those dams and more than 70 others now operational in Laos and China all contribute to deteriorating downstream conditions related to the drought.”
PHNOM PENH – While the rural and farming population of Cambodia remains substantial, it is declining. A 2017 report by the country’s agriculture ministry said the percentage of the labour force working in agriculture had halved since 1993. That decline continued as annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth ranged from 5.9% to 7.5% over the past decade. The lure of the city – despite the monotony of factory work or the dangers of unregulated construction sites – has drawn hundreds of thousands of people away from the land. “It is in [the] mindset of the Cambodians that neak sre, or farmers, are labelled as poor,” said Sokkea Hoy. “Therefore, parent farmers do not want their offspring to do the farming. They [would] much rather send their kids to search for jobs in the cities or neighbouring countries”.
PHNOM PENH — In late September, protestors in Central Java, on Indonesia’s most populous island, stood outside a regional government office and vented their frustration at what they saw as inaction over complaints that the towering smokestacks of a nearby coal-fuelled power plant had been sputtering ash onto their farms. With “we need clean air” and “we are covered in coal dust,” among the jeremiads, the protests echoed another long-standing struggle – near Batang, also on Java. There, locals have fought for years against the imminent opening of a 2,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant, part of the government’s plans to expand the electricity grid by 35,000 megawatts to meet the energy demands of an economy growing at 5% a year. Such protests are likely to become more common across the region in the coming years, as urbanisation, industrialisation and increasing consumer spending in Southeast Asia’s growing economies spur a surge in energy demand. This in turn will likely prompt a trend-defying expansion of coal-fired power plants over the coming years even as most other regions lower their dependence on coal over environmental concerns.
BIMA — At first Kiki Mariam wasn’t too concerned as the tail end of a cyclone sent cascades of roof-rattling rain onto the riverside home she shared with her husband Robitan in Bima, a city of around 170,000 people on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa.“At first the water was low and then it got higher,” the 37-year-old recalled, one hand resting on a sawdust-speckled workman’s table, the other pointing to the riverbank a couple of yards away. Now the river is flowing as normal, about ten feet below ground level down a 70 degree angle bank. But during that mid-December morning in 2016, as the rain beat down hour after hour, Mariam saw the river’s ineluctable swell and soon forgot her breakfast-time frustration about a leaking roof. “I didn’t think it would get higher than that,” Mariam said, pointing at the riverbank. But as the rain hammered down relentlessly, the river rose and rose, until the water, ominously, was climbing close to ground level. “We saw it wasn’t going to stop – it took quite a long time, but it came,” Mariam said. “I was really scared, we were asked to leave, so we grabbed what we could and moved away from the river,’ she said, as husband Robitan, 39, pointed to a head-high spot on a nearby wall, the faded difference in hue indicating the high water mark of the 2016 deluge that destroyed their house and left 100,000 people homeless in and around Bima.
KWANGKO, SUMBAWA ISLAND — As afternoon turns to evening and the high and blinding sun sinks slowly toward the horizon, Zubaidi still keeps the peak of his cap tilted slightly down, all the better to run an eye over the sky-blue paint job on the small skiff he and his small team are putting the finishing touches to. Behind Zubaidi’s seaside house, set about three feet up on stilts to keep the floor above any high tide, the whine of the electric saws and planes readies another batch of precision-cut timber for the next boat, each one to be sold to eager local fishermen at 1.5 million Indonesian Rupiah (US$106) a pop. Less than two years before, Zubaidi and team had to saw the planks by hand. It was only a year and a half ago that his tiny village of Kwangko on the coast of the island of Sumbawa was connected to the national electricity supply. “I can do three times as much now, more than I had before we got power,” Zubaidi says. “Now you have to pre-order if you want a boat.”