Muddy Waters

on Friday, February 23, 2007

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.


Molly said...

Lovely words, even without music....

nancycle said...

I wonder if human nature will take our own planet to such an extreme as the Sepang River.

Great lyrics.

Thanks for sharing, that speaks volumes.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Ah molly,
Thanks for the encouraging words .....but you're missing out not hearing me sing in my American Idol voice. lol.

Those words have been a comfort through a lifetime of trials and wanderings.

nice to have you drop in after a period of inactivity. Sepang River was horrifying at its worse. If you wanted to walk on water, you could almost do it here cause the organic waste practically made a hard crust on the water. Thankfully, nature heals itself if we give it an opportunity. I hope we don't have to make all our rivers black before we act. Glad you like the lyrics. It's quite personal to me. I may have forgotten lots but I still remember those lyrics.

Odat said...

Such a shame....but a wonderful song..thanks for sharing that..

geewits said...

That was nice. It's so sad when our natural resources become tainted. I'm glad you care.

Becky Wolfe said...

Very interesting, sad that a generation is growing up not knowing that water runs clear but the turn around is that we are LEARNING and there is hope, like the Sepang, if things are done smartly (great photos)

Beautiful song. And a beautiful truth, cleansing the muddy waters of our souls. - American Idol voice eh? Time to put in a sound clip of your talents *grin*

Janice Thomson said...

It seems where man treads dire consequences result. Thanks to people like yourself for bringing awareness to others! A very apt song not only for the post but for ourselves...a much enjoyed read LGS.

Jocelyn said...

You do such a good job of rationally laying out a problem and examining its causes!

nancycle said...

re: the inactivity

no promises re: resurfacing myself, I'm trying my darnest to grow my territory, raise my little one and just started a new and very wonderful relationship...but I'll be sure to visit when I can!

Looking forward to more routine times again soon and if those lyrics are all you remember, I bet that's enough. :)


Anonymous said...

Ahh, I love hymns. Back when hymns were being written it seemed the writers were so creative with their words and I think that is why the hymns never go out of style. Always a healing word or thought in the old hymns.

Incidentally, there is trendy little cafe in the city I work in called..Muddy Waters. :) Isn't that neat?



Michael C said...

It is amazing what nature can do if left alone, isn't it?

HeiressChild said...

beautiful words to the song. great article. we need to do some projects like that here--the anacostia river, in particular. have a great weekend.

CSL said...

That seems to be a problem everywhere - we just don't realize all the natural treatsures we have and foul them up one way or another. But that one river does look clear - clear enough to hold your shadow, in fact. I have a friend who signs every email "Peace like a river," which is in image I love.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Peace back at you.

we all need to care for our children's sake. In my case that is metaphorical as I've got no kids. :)

the young generation is already forgetting what has been lost and we cannot let it continue like that. As to the voice issue, it's probably best if we don't go down that road. :)

man has forgotten to take care of Mother Nature even though she takes care of us. Your comments as always very encouraging.

thank you for that observation. It's reassuring that I haven't forgotten everything I learnt at University. Haha. No, seriously - very reassuring!

It's okay to abandon us for better things. Squirrel not get annoyed; promise! Glad everything is moving in the right direction. God bless.

very curious on what the serve at Muddy Waters. Unusual name, no?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Nature is great. If we are smart and have not done too much damage, nature can help us resolve our pollution problems more effectively than technological solutions. We just haven't valued nature enough.

I know what you mean. I've also read with sadness how the bounty of Cheasapeake Bay has disappeared in the face of the onslaught of pollution. God's providence squandered and ruined by man in his "wisdom" or is it really greed and stupidity.

very sharp about the photo. I didn't notice till I posted t and wondered if anyone would notice. Peace like a river is anice phrase.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I have never been to Muddy Waters. Well, my friend and I did go one time, but they were closed. From what I hear they serve all the fancy coffees and teas and I imagine some little sandwiches, and pastries. But I think they are more known for their "Jo".

patterns of ink said...

Beautiful analogy. The lyrics brought to mind the words to that old spiritual "There is a balm in heal the sin sick soul"
Poe alluded to it in "The Raven" when the tormented mourner cries "Is there? Is there balm in Gilead?" The words can be found here:

By the way, my wife and I saw Amazing Grace Friday night. It's about Wilberforce and shutting down the 19th Century UK slave trade, but it has a subplot about John Newton who wrote the title song.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Hi ellie,
By "Jo", I take it you mean coffee. Yes, muddy waters - good name for coffee place.

patterns of ink,
thanks for the info. It's nice to discover biblical references in literature. I have not seen "Amazing Grace" but I know the story behind it. Newton was initially a slave trader.

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