Muddy Waters

The river to Taman Negara (National Park) used to be clear. Today, it is “kopi susu” .
Many urban Malaysians believe that the natural color of Malaysian rivers is, in the local parlance, “kopi susu”. That is to say, the water is the color and consistancy of coffee with milk. This is in fact the color of many rivers in Malaysia today. It surprises them when I show photographs of rivers which are clean and clear and find it hard to believe that those were Malaysian rivers. While such rivers still exist today, they are really the minority.It was not always so. About 50 years ago, almost all the rivers were clean and clear. During that period, massive land clearing for urban development, agriculture and cash crop plantations, (especially in the 1960-1970s) resulted in extensive soil erosion and siltation of rivers. Similarly, uncontrolled or poorly managed logging in many watersheds also contributed to the problem. Regretably, it is only in recent times that more effort has been made to manage river basins more sustainably and reduce the negative impacts of development. The result is a whole generation have forgotten the sight of naturally clean, clear waters in their rivers. It’s sad.

Neighbouring Singapore invested a lot of time, money and resources to cleaning up their main river and have succeeded. The river is no longer the color of coffee with milk and fish and river life has returned. Where it once was important in trade and transport, it is now earning its living as a tourist destination. It is a beacon of hope and an example that it is not too late to save rivers if appropriate action is taken with determination.

In Malaysia, the Sepang River was once considered the most polluted river. It received a substantial amount of untreated effluent from unregulated pig and poultry farms. The net result was a river that was so black it looked like a tarred highway in photographs. Then, a disease outbreak occured (Nipah Virus) and the farms were closed down and relocated. The river has had more than ten years to heal and today it is almost back to being naturally clear.

The blackwater Sepang River is almost clear again
I hope that more Malaysians realise what they have lost and are losing and act to help place river rehabilitation and protection onto the national psyche and agenda.All this talk of muddy waters has brought to mind a very old Christian song by the British composer, Adrian Snell. I haven’t heard any song from Adrian for more than 25 years. Recently, a friend imported a CD and tried to introduce me to his music. I recognised Adrian Snell immediately and I was reminded of the following song that meant so much to me in my early Christian walk. Wish I could sing it for you but I hope you will appreciate the words. Our souls too need to be renewed.

Lord Jesus, You are everything that I will ever need,
Despite my sin, you took me in and gave your gift of peace.
On the muddy waters of my soul,
You poured the living stream,
That washed away my sorrow and my pain.
But the stream became a river,
Till the muddy waters cleared
And the beauty of your face was mirrored there.

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