Fishing villages draw tourists but garbage problem may keep them away

MALAYSIA - The fishing villages in northern Selangor are popular destinations for Klang Valley residents seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. However, the idyllic surroundings are increasingly being marred by the sight of piles of garbage strewn all over.

Rubbish can be seen piled up next to the roads and houses, along the river bank and even floating out to sea. The sight of such pollution also makes visitors wonder if it is safe to eat the seafood caught in the area.

While the garbage issue may seem to be the result of a lack of civic-consciousness, it is actually the result of an issue that has dragged on for about 100 years.

These villages, unlike neighbourhoods in most parts of the Klang Valley, are not serviced by local councils and not have waste collection services. This is mainly due to complicated land issues that have been unresolved for decades.

Land status matters

Bagan Nakhoda Omar village community security and development committee (JKKK) chairman Heng Kee Seng said the villagers did not have land titles or Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL) even though their families had first settled in the area about a century ago.

"This is because we are on Malay Reserve Land. The land was explored and settled by the Malays but when they moved on, fishermen began settling in the other abandoned sites," he said, adding that seven other fishing villages faced similar problems.

Heng said that because of the land issue, the village was not under the jurisdiction of any local authority and consequently do not get waste collection services.

According to him, there are about 90 houses in Bagan Nakhoda Omar with about 600 residents. He said many had grown apathetic to the area's garbage woes.

"Throwing rubbish wherever it is convenient has become a habit. It is sad but even if they do not litter or make an effort to clean up the surroundings, the high tide will bring waves of garbage back into our village.

"We do not want to live next to these piles of rubbish and we know it can damage our health and the environment, but we really do not know how to handle it," Heng said.

In Bagan Parit Baru, JKKK chairman Kee Chin Yong said the villagers had TOLs but the state government had not renewed the licences that had expired two years ago.

Kee said the village was not under the jurisdiction of any local authority but most of the 1,000-odd residents preferred status quo, for fear they might have to fork out hefty sums for various fees and taxes.

Like the other villages in the area, rubbish is strewn everywhere in Bagan Parit Baru.

"We try not to make the situation any worse. Whenever there is a banquet, we will collect the rubbish and send it to the main road about 2km away to catch hold of a passing garbage truck.

"But it is a vicious cycle, we have become used to it and we feel helpless trying to resolve it," he said.

Dwindling catch

Heng opined that the situation could be affecting his catch, which he said had been dwindling by the year.

"Based on my observations, about 10 types of fish are no longer seen in our waters.

"Also, the fish and prawns we catch in the river these days are smaller in size, which could be because there is less food in the rubbish-choked river," he said.

Heng hopes the land issue can be settled quickly so that the local authority can manage the area and help monitor the garbage and pollution problems.

Over in Bagan Teluk Ru, villager Kong Hock Seng said he had tried to instill better awareness among his fellow villagers.

However, the high tides and absence of garbage trucks filling the village with rubbish from the sea, have encouraged the bad habits to continue, he said.

Like in Bagan Parit Baru, many families here are not keen about the presence of a local authority.

The village, which sits on Malay Reserve Land, has faced another environmental problem in recent years as some profit-minded villagers have built bird's nest houses in the area. One of them even rents out the ground floor of the building to students.

State working on a solution

Sekinchan assemblyman Ng Swee Lim said the state government was aware of the land issues and has been working on a solution.

Among the efforts is to find plots of land as replacement for the Malay Reserve Land, so that the villagers could own the land where they are currently staying.

He said this had been done in Bagan Sekinchan, where villagers living on Malay Reserve Land were in the process of getting land titles as the state had managed to find a 32ha plot of land in Sungai Panjang, Sabak Bernam, for a land swap.

He added that the other 183 families in Bagan Sekinchan lived on state land with TOL and had received leasehold titles for 99 years.

"While we cannot simply take over a piece of Malay Reserve Land but, we will try to solve the problem through such land swaps," said Ng.

He explained that only three of the 16 fishing villages in northern Selangor faced problems related to Malay Reserve Land.

Limited resources

When asked about the difficulty faced by villagers in renewing their TOL, Ng explained that the state government had to monitor the use of TOL as some of the licences had been abused in the past.

He also explained that the Sabak Bernam District Council was facing some restrictions when it came to addressing the environmental issues such as waste disposal.

"This council is among the poorest of the 12 local authorities in Selangor due to low tax collection from its small population. At the same time, it handles a huge area.

"Therefore, it is difficult for it to provide services to the remote fishing villages. However, the council has expanded its service area in recent years," he said, adding that cleanliness campaigns had also been carried out in the villages.

He added that the state's allocation for villages in the area had increased from RM2 million (S$780,000) to RM5 million a year but the amount was still insufficient to carry out works effectively over such a huge area.

Ng pointed out that LUAS was also trying to improve water quality in the river by monitoring structures built along the banks.

"According to the bylaws, areas within 250m from the river are supposed to be free from any unauthorised structures, making all the jetties and bridges illegal.

"However, these structures were already in place before the bylaws were drawn up so LUAS is monitoring them while preventing new ones from being built," he said.

Ng also said the pollution had not affectged the quality of the catch in the area as there had been no reports of food poisoning, or even complaints from visitors.

"Tourist arrivals have actually increased over the past few years, thanks to active promotional efforts," he said.