Malaysia’s ex-mines: Turning wastelands into wonders


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Kuala Lumpur, a former tin mining site for more than a hundred years, is one of Malaysia’s testaments that it could turn wastelands to world class wonders.

[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Newsbreak in November 8, 2008]

MANILA, Philippines – Once the world’s biggest player in tin mining, Malaysia has successfully rehabilitated sites where mining companies have stopped operating into booming regions or hosts of income generating projects.

“The success of mines rehabilitation in Malaysia is through joint efforts from the government, research and higher learning institutions, and the private sector,” Mohd Suhaili Ismail, principal geologist of Malaysia’s Department of Mineral and Geosciences, said when he visited Manila for a mining conference in October.

Ismail defined mining rehabilitation as “the restoration or return of mined land to a natural state and the transformation to alternative, productive land use.”

Malaysia’s rehabilitation program focused on the transformation part, he said.

Kuala Lumpur and Kuantan had been mining towns since the 1850s until the tin mining industry collapsed in mid-1980.

Ex-mines, now landmarks

Kuala Lumpur began as a mining settlement but is now a famous tourist destination. The Petronas Twin Towers, the second highest structure in the world, is located in Kuala Lumpur.

Every year, thousands of tourists visit the beaches along the coast of Kuantan, once the world’s largest subterranean coal mine. Cameron Highlands in Kuantan is the largest highland resort in Malaysia.

Other landmarks include The Mines, The Sunway Lagoon Resort, The Clearwater Sanctuary golf resort, and Lake Titiwangsa.

The Mines Resort City was once the world’s largest open cast mine called Hong Fatt Mines. Now, it is a tourist destination boasting a 5-star hotel, a man-made beach and a 246-acre golf course—a far cry from the barren land it once was.

Ismail said the long years of mining activity in Malaysia left its lands with large numbers of ponds, sinkholes, and tin tailings or waste rock from mining operations. Tin tailings make lands unsuitable for agricultural purposes.

Tin mining

Malaysia was the world’s largest tin producer and supplied more than half of the world’s tin until the mid-1980 when prices dropped and more than 300 tin mines stopped their operations, Ismail said.

While the ex-tin mines were left un-rehabilitated, illegal occupants were probably the first to utilize the lands, Ismail said. They built shacks, planted crops, and raised livestock there.

But as Malaysia’s economy developed rapidly, land became scarce and former tin mining lands became valuable.

Ismail shared that ex-mining lands were controlled and developed by the government and utilized the area for housing developments. In Kuala Lumpur suburbs, low cost houses were built.

To complement these, other aspects of the rehabilitation program were thrown in, such as commercial centers, factories, schools, and universities, he said.

Moreover, the government initiated research and development of agriculture and aquaculture in former mining lands, Ismail stressed.

Research was carried out to create a suitable environment for raising livestock and growing plants such as tapioca, oil palm and forest trees.

Then the private sector stepped in. Ismail said investments brought in by different businesses led to transformation of ex-mining lands into recreational areas and theme parks.

Mining rehabilitation is part of the nine thrusts of Malaysia’s new National Mineral Policy, which recognizes the need for research and development and encourages environmental stewardship.

Sustainable development

The Philippines can learn a lot from Malaysia’s experience in mining rehabilitation and their push for sustainable development.

The Philippine Mining Act contains a built-in protection for indigenous peoples and requires their prior informed consent before any mining activity is allowed. Also, mining companies are obliged to set up a Contingent Liability and Rehabilitation Fund to enable communities to sustain themselves even after the mining companies have ceased their operations.

However, although mining rehabilitation is enshrined in the Philippine Mining Act, many communities where mining operations have stopped are still left severely damaged–testaments of the extractive industry’s sinful past.

Mining operations made ghost towns out of communities such as those in the Cordillera areas. It harmed environments such as in Rapu-Rapu’s case where toxic spills from polymetallic mining operations killed marine species in the area.

Mining companies may be compelled by the law to practice corporate social responsibility but the Philippines needs stronger implementation of its mining policies. — Kriselda delos Santos, Newsbreak

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