Cameron Highlands in terrible shape

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CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Once famed for its cool temperatures and verdant growth, Cameron Highlands is now battling unsustainable land clearing and water pollution.

Rampant land clearing for agricultural cultivation riddles the hills, carried out by farmers who either do not have a permit or are flouting regulations.

Heavy machinery are also seen working during the weekends, when their use is prohibited.

Some of the land clearing is being done on hillslopes, which are clearly “class three” or “four”, meaning those above the 30-degree gradient. This poses high risks of landslides and soil erosion.

When it rains, especially during the current inter-monsoon season, muddy water gushes down the slopes into rivers which have turned a murky teh tarik colour.

Some of the clogged drains and streams have already begun overflowing each time it rains, flooding the roads nearby.

The situation is compounded by huge stretches of farms being covered with white, plastic sheets, causing rainwater to travel swiftly into the rivers without being “filtered” through the ground.

Soil erosion is not the only cause of river pollution at the hills; pesticides used at the farms are also washed into the once pristine rivers.

The Star visited several locations, including Sg Menson, 49 Mile, Blue Valley and Kuala Terla, all of which were suffering from extensive land clearing.

There was little or no evidence of any effort by farmers to create a proper drainage system, including setting up silt traps to prevent soil from washing into the rivers or streams.

Many farmers have also neglected to follow the requirement of maintaining a buffer zone between their farms and the rivers.

A drive along the inner road at Sg Menson showed kilometres of farms bordering the polluted river with no buffer zone.

At another area in Sg Menson, gully erosion has already taken place with hectares of land having been steadily cleared.

From the deep cracks and chasms in the ground, it is clear that tonnes of soil have been washed down the steep slopes into the river.

At 49 Mile, farmers have voiced opposition to the illegal land clearing by others who have polluted their only source of water.

Near Blue Valley, workers’ quarters have been built near the main road, where toilet sewage pipes empty waste into the river.

The situation is similar in Ringlet, where a farmhand reported frequent skin problems or respiratory diseases as he and his workmates had to drink and cook with water from the same river.

Residents in Tanah Rata have expressed unhappiness over what they deem “rampant illegal clearing”, claiming that it has affected their health as well as jeopardised the future of Cameron Highlands as an agricultural area and a tourist destination.

Last month, massive soil erosion from an allegedly illegal land clearing near the Kuala Terla water treatment plant caused the only access road to the plant and the farms to give way after heavy rainfall.

A landslide also occurred the same day on the Tanah Rata-Ringlet road, causing a one-and-a-half hour traffic jam in both directions.