Bauxite mining has caused serious environmental damage affecting rivers, air quality and the durian harvest.
KUANTAN: It has been talked about for its durians and its beaches, but these days, the Malaysian city of Kuantan is undergoing a transformation – as the site of a new port and industrial park, both funded by Chinese investors.
As the first such in Malaysia to be jointly developed by both countries, the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park has drawn investment pledges of more than US$3.5 billion by Chinese companies.
Guangxi Investment Group, for example, will invest US$145 million in an aluminum component manufacturing facility, while LJ Hightech Material will build a US$250-million high-tech centre to produce concrete panel construction materials.
But while such investments are expected to create thousands of jobs for locals, the Chinese presence has sparked mixed reactions – in no small part because of the environmental impact of some projects, as the programme The Maritime Silk Road found out.
The six-part series explores the impact of China’s ambitious plan for a modern-day Silk Road on the people in the countries that it links up.
The mining of bauxite, for example - a raw material used in the production of aluminum - for export to China has caused massive environmental damage affecting residents and farmers in Kuantan.
“Bauxite dust has turned our rivers red, polluted our water sources and forced businesses to close down,” said Mr Saidi Mohd, a local resident. “The dust is very fine. People start coughing and getting asthma attacks. It makes our skin itch.”
WATCH: More on Kuantan’s environmental disaster
Durian trees have stopped flowering and the fruit is a lot less sweet, according to farmer Che Long. While the Malaysian government has since imposed a temporary prohibition on bauxite mining till December 2016, local state assemblyman Lee Chean Chung said it would take decades for the environment to recover.
“China must encourage responsible buying practices by its government-linked companies,” he said. “China is talking about an international presence … So we must expect a better environmental standard to be followed.”
For more, catch The Maritime Silk Road every Tuesday at 8pm SG/HK.