VII. ISSUES AND PROBLEMS: SOME POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
A. State of the environment in Kuala Lumpur city
Economic development and population growth have led to some severe impacts on the environment of Kuala Lumpur city. Some of the issues identified and highlighted in the previous chapters include serious problems in the areas of urban environmental degradation, industrial pollution, atmospheric emissions, soil erosion and land degradation, degradation of water resources, deforestation and loss of natural habitat. The real costs of environmental degradation are mounting, taking the forms of increasing health costs and even mortality (as was the case during the recent outbreak of dengue and the cholera epidemic), and irreversible loss of biodiversity and overall environmental quality (as was the case during the recent haze crisis).
Urban pollution is caused by high population densities, rising urban income and consumption levels, and large industrial concentrations. Infrastructure and services are unable to keep up with those trends. Local governments lack the capacity to collect and dispose of municipal sewage and solid wastes, or to control emissions and toxic wastes. The concentration of toxic wastes overwhelms the assimilative capacity of natural ecosystems and human health is threatened by highly concentrated discharges of pollutants in urban areas.
There are several underlying causes of environmental degradation. The first consists of fundamental market and policy failures concerning natural resources, such as water and the environment, that have received little corrective action. A second cause is the strain on the resource base imposed by the large and growing population. That strain is further exacerbated by the continuous inflow of illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries in search of better job opportunities. Many live in abject poverty with little access to basic amenities such as clean water. A third of course is rapid urbanization and industrialization, with its complement of construction activities and industrial waste which impose complex demands on the assimilative capacity of the environment, as well as on human and institutional abilities to respond. A fourth cause is the common perception (in part, resulting from a lack of information) that there is a direct trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth. There is, in fact, no trade-off. Rational policies will actually cost less to implement than the resulting reduction in external costs, leading to a net increase in economic efficiency and social benefits.
The range of actions required to improve environmental management in a city like Kuala Lumpur may be extremely wide, from using innovative policy analysis and implementation to securing large amounts of new investments. The complexity of the actions required, combined with real financial and institutional constraints, demands that priorities be set. The four principal environmental problems that need to be addressed include water pollution, air pollution, solid waste management and inappropriate land use.