All bauxite mining and transporting activities came to a standstill in Pahang from midnight yesterday as a three-month moratorium imposed by the federal government kicked into effect.
Dusty lorries could be seen idle by the roadside in scattered areas, while police reported no bauxite-related activity at nine 24-hour inspection checkpoints that were set up in the state last week.
Pahang police chief Sharifuddin Ab Ghani said the situation had improved in the police's first phase of inspection from last Saturday to Thursday, with noticeably fewer lorries carrying bauxite.
No lorries were allowed to transport the mineral, which is used in making aluminium, from yesterday until April 14.
"There must be no movement at all," Datuk Sharifuddin told reporters.
The temporary ban was imposed after indiscriminate bauxite mining, along with poorly regulated washing and transportation of the mineral left many areas covered in red dust. Rivers and other water bodies were also polluted.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has instructed mining operators to clear their stockpiles at the port during the first month of the moratorium.
Kuantan Port Consortium general manager Azahari Mohammad Yusof estimated that there were still around two million to three million tonnes of bauxite stockpiles yet to be shipped out from the Kuantan port.
Lifting of the moratorium will be conditional upon the miners' successful implementation of new standard operating procedures and clean-up efforts of the bauxite dust that has stained the state over the past year, Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi had earlier said.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had stayed silent on the issue for months, was recently reported to have instructed the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry to ensure that areas affected by bauxite dust are cleaned.
In its clean-up efforts, the ministry has tasked several agencies, including the Fire and Rescue Department, Kuantan City Council, Works Department and waste disposal company SW Corp and its contractor Alam Flora, to carry out cleaning activities within a month, with residential areas being prioritised.
Cleaning began on Thursday at Kampung Padang Permai, where firemen hosed down the village's roads and civil servants scooped up sediment from drains into plastic trash bags to be transported to a temporary dumping site.
Roadside hawker stall worker Milawaty Abdul Samad, 41, was relieved that the roads were being cleaned. "It is good that they are cleaning the dust; it is not good for my customers and for our health," she told The Straits Times.
Opposition politician Fuziah Salleh cautioned, however, that washing away the red dust and stains visible to the naked eye is only the first step in the rehabilitation of the state's environment.
The state, she said, also has to deal with the contamination of river water, ensure the land at former bauxite mines are as fertile as before and address health issues suffered by residents, who have blamed the mining for the rise in respiratory and skin problems.
"Contamination of the raw water source that feeds into the Semambu water treatment plant will put 700,000 Kuantan consumers at risk. Immediate measures need to be taken to rehabilitate the environment," she told The Straits Times.
This article was first published on January 16, 2016.
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