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People Power for the Planet: 4 Inspiring Community-Led Initiatives That Salvaged Forests and Rivers

As concern for the environment grows, more and more people and communities are banding together to protest against schemes that will hurt our natural environments and raise awareness on such issues.

Through these collective efforts, we have all made our voices clear and have even helped with the protection and preservation of our natural habitats.

Here are some community efforts that arose to safeguard our natural spaces.

#1: The Sheer Force Of Bukit Kiara Community

Source: Malay Mail

Since 2013, people have been peacefully protesting the many developments occurring at Bukit Kiara. It started with the construction of a perimeter fence that led to an estimated 3,000 mature trees being felled, trails being damaged and pristine water bodies being polluted by the massive earthworks[1].

Among the participants in these protests was mountain biker Mushdi Mustafa, who had been cycling in Bukit Kiara since 1988. He pointed out that the surrounding developments had resulted in the hills shrinking in size[1].

Before, it would take me almost eight hours to ride across the trails of Bukit Kiara. Nowadays, I can finish a course in less than two hours. Many of the trails have also been blocked by the fencing, reducing my options.

However, my main concern is the animals, especially the young monkeys which might not be able to get past the high fencing. We are disturbing their habitat. The fencing should not be there and is marring the area. – Mushdi Mustafa, mountain biker[1]

Another protester, Joanne Yoong, added that the authorities should listen to the people.

Don’t the people’s voice matter? Also, promises must be kept.

I have been coming here for the past 43 years. Back then, the area was much greener with a large flat land at the foothills, ideal for those with ailments such as arthritis as well as the wheelchair-bound. – Joanne Yoong, protester[1]

The third protest of 2013 demonstrated the collective strength of these community protesters as, according to Malaysian Nature Society former president Henry Goh, more than 600 signatures were collected, totalling almost 18,000, for the petition calling on the authorities to leave Bukit Kiara as it is[1].

The destruction of Bukit Kiara’s biodiversity and ecosystem will contribute to a warmer climate and discomfort for the public at large. Any drastic disturbance to the water source in Bukit Kiara is likely to have a wider effect downstream along Sungai Penchala. Due consideration should be given to all potential environmental impact studies conducted before embarking on large-scale projects. – Henry Goh, Malaysian Nature Society former president[1]

The protests were not without its obstacles. Although the initial public outcry had put a halt on further developments on July 31st 2012, the following year saw the projects being restarted, a move that late Friends of Bukit Kiara (FoBK) chairman Liew Khooi Cheng saw as being against the government’s promise.

The collective strength of the Bukit Kiara was yet again demonstrated in June 2016, when nearly 500 Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) residents gathered at the Bukit Kiara Rimba Park to protest a project that they said would cause over-development of their neighbourhood[2].

This protest came in response to the announcement that certain sections of Bukit Kiara Rimba Park were earmarked for constructing a proposed 29-story high-rise building containing 350 affordable units. Additionally, plans included an eight-block cluster featuring 1,766 serviced apartment units, with some soaring to heights of up to 54 storeys[2].

Their efforts finally paid off in 2020 when Bukit Kiara Federal Park was officially gazetted as a green lung[3].

When YB Lim Lip Eng was the Segambut MP, he fought for Bukit Kiara to be gazetted, but the Barisan Nasional administration did not do it.

So after we won, we did a lot of after we won, we did a lot of consultation with several stakeholders including the Taman Tun Dr Ismail residents and had through many meetings and letters I wrote to the government and government agencies to push this through. – DAP’s Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh[3]

#2: Adopt a Tree

Source: The Star

Adopt a Tree” is a collaboration between Indah Water Konsortium Sdn Bhd (IWK) and the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS). Through this program, members of a charity home and the local community came together to plant trees at Khazanah Rimba, Pantai Eco Park in Pantai Dalam[4].

Launched in 2020, the program aims to rejuvenate the park, involving increasing the greenery with urban flora and fauna species[5]. Since its inception, the program has achieved the planting of 400 trees at Khazanah Rimba, Pantai Eco Park[4].

A total of 40 participants from Rumah Anak-Anak Yatim dan Asnaf Qaseh Ibu and the local community came together for a tree-planting event. This initiative involved planting 200 trees, generously donated by IT solutions company CTC Global Sdn Bhd and IWK staff[4].

IWK chief executive officer Narendran Maniam expressed his joy at bringing participants from the industry, NGOs and the local community together to preserve the environment.

We are very happy to see this initiative bring together like-minded partners, from industry, NGOs and local communities, to preserve our environmental heritage for future generations.

Our shared vision of building a sustainable future will kindle various socio-economic development opportunities for the betterment of our communities and the environment. – Narendran Maniam, IWK chief executive officer[5]

Narendran also said that the tree-planting exercise will help promote the usage of one of IWK’s by-products – biosolids – as a fertiliser for improving soil conditions and enhancing plant growth for non-food crops and ornamental plants[5].

#3: River Care Programme

Source: GEC

Rivers play an important role in our lives. But sadly, they are taken for granted too often, and many of Malaysia’s rivers face serious degradation. The Global Environment Care’s (GEC) River Care Programme (RCP) was established with the aim of fostering community engagement in the preservation and sustainable utilisation of river and water resources through the Civic Science approach.

One of the RCP’s ongoing projects is Citizen Science Engagement Through River Adoption & Monitoring, which centres on empowering the local community to actively participate in river care management. This includes activities such as river monitoring and citizen science initiatives that address critical issues related to river conservation.

The RCP was also heavily involved in the River of Life project, which is part of the Government of Malaysia’s National Transformation Programme. This ambitious initiative aimed to revitalise the eight rivers situated in the Greater KL/Klang Valley region by focusing on three key components: river cleaning, river beautification, and the promotion of commercialism and tourism.

The River of Life Public Outreach Programme (RoLPOP) is part of the key initiatives (12B) under the River Cleaning component. Starting in 2012, the programme aimed at on-the-ground education and encouraging behavioural changes towards caring for rivers. By using various outreach methods such as awareness campaigns, river adoption programmes and volunteerism, the RoLPOP managed to raise public awareness of not just the River of Life Project but also the importance of river care and the impact of water pollution on freshwater ecosystems.

The program achieved remarkable results, engaging over 42,000 participants in 385 ROLPOP5 activities. It entailed monitoring a 15km section of the Klang River and spurred local communities and organisations to adopt an 8.2 km segment of the Klang River. Additionally, the successful establishment of the One River Open Classroom and four Community Centers was accomplished as part of ROLPOP5’s efforts.

In addition to these programs, this project also seeks to establish a network of collaboration among various stakeholders. This collaboration is aimed at enhancing efforts to preserve, conserve, and monitor rivers, as well as to implement effective waste management strategies, all in pursuit of long-term sustainability in river care.

#4: Save Rivers

Source: Malaysiakini

Save Rivers is an NGO that supports and empowers rural communities to protect their land, rivers, and watersheds through capacity building, networking, research, education, and advocacy.

The organisation was originally founded in 2011 in response to the Baram Dam project. The dam, which covered an area of 41,200 hectares in the region of Baram, Sarawak, approximately one-and-a-half times the size of Penang Island, would’ve flooded 26 villages and forcefully displaced a population of 20,000 indigenous Kenyah, Kayan and Penan living in the area had it been completed[6].

In response to this unconstitutional move by the state government, hundreds of indigenous villagers launched a blockade to voice their anger at having their customary lands unlawfully stolen from them. In October 2013, hundreds of indigenous villagers headed to the dam site, where they chased away 30 Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) workers who were in the forest doing geological studies for the dam before setting up a blockade to prevent other workers from coming through.

Miles away, at the small village of Long Lama on the Baram River, other villagers set up a second blockade – to prevent cement trucks and workers from constructing the access road to the Baram Dam.

After two tenuous years of driving away developers from their customary lands, the protestors saw a new hope when a moratorium was launched on the development of Baram Dam. Then in 2016, just in time for World Water Day, the Sarawak State Government, under the leadership of the late Chief Minister Adenan Satem, officially revoked the gazette, extinguishing the native ownership rights for land earmarked for the dam site and its reservoir, and returned the land to its rightful indigenous owners[7].

The cancellation of the Baram Dam is not just a significant victory for indigenous rights in Malaysia but also for collective advocacy, demonstrating the strength of communities coming together to fight for their rights.

Explore our sources:

  1. V. Nair. (2013). Third walk held to save Bukit Kiara. The Star. Link.
  2. M.M. Lin. (2016). In Taman Tun, hundreds protest planned Bukit Kiara development. Malay Mail. Link.
  3. S.W. Jun. (2020). Bukit Kiara Federal Park finally gazetted as green lung, says Segambut MP. Malay Mail. Link.
  4. FMT. (2022). IWK goes green with ‘Adopt a Tree’ campaign. Link.
  5. The Star. (2022). Youths, volunteers plant 200 trees at KL park. Link.
  6. P. Kallang. (2017). Marking one year of Baram dam’s cancellation. Malaysiakini. Link.
  7. S. Bardeen. (2016). BARAM DAM STOPPED! A VICTORY FOR INDIGENOUS RIGHTS. Intercontinental Cry. Link.

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