Malaysia: logjam triggers environmental disaster

Logjam blocking a river Logs clogging the Baleh River in Malaysia (© Matek Geram)

Aug 25, 2021

Even seasoned environmental activists were shocked by the scale of this disaster: A logjam has been clogging the Baleh River in the Malaysian state of Sarawak for days. Dead fish, a drowned deer and thousands of tree trunks can be seen in the photos sent by our partner Matek Geram. Loggers along the upper reaches of the river are responsible.

The indigenous Iban people in Sarawak are bearing the brunt of this disaster: Many fear for their safety when they travel on the river – a vital link to the outside world. Numerous fishermen had their nets swept away by the mud and drifting logs. In the city of Sibu, the water supply is impacted.

Matek Geram of the indigenous organization SADIA sees the clearing of rainforest for timber and oil palm plantations and a dam project as the cause. Soil erosion has increased significantly, he said. “The richness of the forest is threatened and ancient trees have been lost to deforestation. The river is dead and the surrounding environment has been destroyed. As an indigenous activist defending the forest and traditional indigenous land rights, I am deeply disappointed and saddened by all the disasters caused by the government’s policy of unbridled deforestation and destruction of the environment.”

In a written statement, Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Jemut Masing, who also belongs to the Iban people, named the culprits of the disaster, companies logging in the upper reaches “with destructive consequences for the environment.”

Baleh River suffered a previous logjam in 2010. At that time, several people lost their lives.