KAPIT: Last Thursday and Friday saw river transport at a standstill as wooden debris clogged Baleh and Rajang rivers which adversely affected navigation from Sibu to Putai, a distance of some 300km.
This massive logjam along Malaysia’s longest river was a cause of grave concern and drew wide-spread discussion and speculation on the causes, especially in Facebook and other blogs on the Internet, thus getting the attention of foreign media and environmental groups.
A man from Sungai Melatai, a tributary of Baleh River, gave the following account of the cause.
“The cause of the ecological disaster and the extensive environmental damage has nothing to do with the rain or rising water level because on the day it happened the water level along Baleh River was low and normal. There was extensive landslide of between five and 10km on both banks of Sungai Melatai. This has nothing to do with farming activities. It is caused by human disregard for the environment through extensive logging activities.”
A child died when its mother could not send it for medical treatment in Kapit due to the logjam. Two men in a Land Cruiser died in the landslide.
“We are very angry but helpless, it is time we wake up to protect our environment,” a teacher who was a relative of the mother said.
A bank employee said political leaders should not blame the weather and appealed to the government to engage an independent body to investigate and get to the root cause because the people deserve to know the truth.
A retired army personnel and a fish breeder from Sungai Sut, who wanted to be known as ‘Robert’, lamented that many types of indigenous fish had died along Sungai Melatai to Sibu, depriving the people of their source of income and protein. According to Tuai Rumah Kilau who returned from Tunoh to Kapit on Friday morning, the massive riverbank erosion was caused by the eruption of dykes formed by sediments, wood and other debris caused by long periods of logging activities.
When contacted, the Superintendent of Land and Survey Kapit Affin Bawi said the massive landslide was the culprit. His view was confirmed by an officer from Sarawak Rivers Board.
An elderly casual worker identified as Jilan explained that the Ibans described the phenomenon as ‘baruas’ or massive landslide affecting a huge area, when nature gives way.
“All the fish would die and in my young days I used to follow my parents in the longboat to catch lots of fish that appeared on the surface”, he said.
The massive logjam prompted an onlooker to exclaim that one just could jump from one log to another to reach the other side of the river bank.
An elderly Chinese was heard murmuring to himself that this could be the first signal of ‘the end of the world’ because of massive destruction to nature caused by humans.
Among the many reasons, the phenomenon could be attributed to the heavy rainfall in the interiors of Kapit, particularly in Baleh, which had caused the river to burst its banks and grab debris and deadwood along the way.
But surprisingly a check at the Kapit waterfront revealed that the water level was low and the velocity of flow was very slow and normal.
On Friday, the situation returned to normal. The extent of damage it had caused to the shipping industry is yet to be ascertained.