GUA MUSANG: Travelling along the Central Spine Road from Cameron Highlands into Lojing, it’s hard to spot much greenery on both sides of the highway.
Instead, in what was once the pristine Lojing Highlands – along the country’s Main Range and stretch of forest reserves – many tractors are busy at work clearing land.
When we reached there by jeep, we saw the tractors, a few almost perched on the treacherous slopes. The tractors looked like little more than ants against the vast backdrop of cleared hills.
Some of the areas involved were so vast that only an image from a drone or satellite could do justice to the size.
Where the excavators are not around, the land is almost certainly marked with the ubiquitous lines of greenhouse plastic all over the hillside.
The plastic covering is much like those at the vegetable farms in neighbouring Cameron Highlands.
Along the highway, several signboards, warning of wildlife from the permanent forest reserves nearby, including Lojing and Sg Brok, and that any development or land clearing must get the written permission of the Gua Musang land officer have been put up.
Many of the rivers – including Sungai Belatop, which meanders through the permanent Sungai Brok forest before joining Sungai Nenggiri and eventually, Sungai Kelantan – are a teh tarik colour.
Even the tributaries nearby, such as Sungai Jedip and Sungai Dengkong, are polluted with soil from erosion, according to the orang asli nearby.
Along these rivers are various orang asli settlements, mainly from the Temiar tribe, who depend on the water for their daily needs.
Nasir Dollah, who used to live in one of the settlements in Lojing, said he used to fish from rivers in the area, such as Sungai Belatop.
“But now, we can no longer depend on the river. We need to buy our fish,” he said.
While the settlements had piped water supply, Nasir said the water from the rivers could not even be used for washing or cooking.
“To get some clean water, we have to go farther into the interior,” he said.
Asked if there was a warning issued against using the water from the rivers due to pollution, Nasir said he could not remember any.
“But the villagers feel that the water in the rivers is no longer suitable for use,” he said.
Another orang asli, Isa Alang, said Sungai Belatop was not the only polluted river.
“Other rivers in the area are also polluted due to land clearing and development nearby.
“We used to be able to bathe in the rivers. They are now full of yellow sand.
“We have raised the issue many times with various parties, including the land office, but the matter has not been resolved,” said Isa, who is also the Community Development and Security Committee chief for the settlement at Pos Brooke, Lojing.
The settlement, with more than 58 families with over 200 residents, now has to totally depend on piped water supply for their daily needs.
The orang asli, however, are not keen on piped water. They are used to the getting their water from nature.
“If we want fresh river water, we have to walk very far, up to three to four hours into the jungle,” Isa added.
He also complained that besides Sungai Belatop, other nearby rivers such as Sungai Jedip and Sungai Dengkong were also heavily polluted because of nearby development projects.