Issues and framework of environmental health in Malaysia.

Author:Mokhtar, Mazlin Bin


Malaysia has experienced remarkable social, economic, and environmental development over the last three decades. This development is mainly due to industrial development, technological advances, and a stable political environment. The country's social and economic transformation has resulted in both positive and negative environmental effects on the health and safety of its people. Malaysia has been ranked 59 out of 175 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI), with a medium level HDI of 0.79 (United Nations Development Program [UNDP], 2004). According to Wikipedia, "the HDI is an index used to rank countries by level of 'human development,' which usually also implies whether a country is a developed, developing, or an underdevel oped country (Wikipedia, 2009b)." The HDI is claimed as a standard means of measuring human development, a concept that according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) refers to the process of widening the options of persons, giving them greater opportunities for education, health care, income, employment, and so forth. Among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Malaysia had the best sustainability index, with an Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) score of 54.0 (Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] Secretariat, 2006). The ESI is "a composite index tracking 21 elements of environmental sustainability covering natural resource endowments, past and present pollution levels, environmental management efforts, contributions to protection of the global commons, and a society's capacity to improve its environmental performance over time (Wikipedia, 2009a)." Malaysia scored well in three of the five ESI components, namely, environmental systems, human vulnerability to environmental stresses, and social and institutional capacity to respond to environmental stresses. Related to environmental sustainability is the concept of ecological footprint, which is "a resource management tool that measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology (Global Footprint Network, 2006)." Malaysia's ecological footprint (including food, fiber, timber, and energy footprints) was the highest among the eight countries in the Southeast Asian region where data were available. Malaysia needed 2.4 global hectares per person per year to meet its resource requirements. Its footprint in 2002 was higher than the average of the entire world, middle income countries, and Asia Pacific countries (ASEAN Secretariat, 2006). Malaysia's total bio-capacity (or resource supply) was higher than its ecological footprint (or resource demand) resulting in a reserve of 0.9 global hectares per person.

Key Issues and Management Framework

Air Quality

Malaysia installed nationwide air quality monitoring networks to keep track of air quality in various places such as residential areas, industrial areas, commercial areas, roadside areas, and reference areas. The Department of Environment (DOE) of Malaysia contracted out national air quality monitoring to a private company, namely Alam Sekitar Malaysia (ASMA) Sendirian Berhad (Private Limited). The company provides continuous ambient air and manual air quality monitoring using 51 continuous and 25 manual monitoring stations. In addition, the Department of Environment, with assistance from Germany, has designated four "hotspots" in Kuala Lumpur where air quality is measured by a MiniVol Portable Air Sampler. To further ensure the protection of ambient air, the DOE has taken steps to ensure that fuels used in industries and motor vehicles do not produce harmful air pollutants or only produce the minimum of harmful air pollutants that may adversely affect the health of people and the quality of the environment. The main sources of air pollution identified, however, were stationary sources (e.g., industries), mobile sources (e.g., motor vehicles), open burning, and transboundary haze pollution. Only during a few sudden occasions has the Air Pollution Index (API) in some areas of Malaysia reached dangerous levels (Department of Environment, 2007) (Figure 1).

Water Quality

Water resources in Malaysia belong to the state and thus water supply management and development in the country is not centralized, but is managed on a state-by-state basis. In 2002, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program in its Country, Regional, and Global Estimates on Water and Sanitation revealed that 95% of Malaysian households have access to improved drinking water facilities. In 2001, the percentages of water samples that were able to meet the national standards were 98% in terms of bacteriological quality, 96% in terms of residual chlorine, and 96% in terms of turbidity (Pillay, Sinha, & Talha, 2003). Over the last two decades a decline has occurred in food-, water-, and sanitation-related diseases in the country, which can be attributed to improvements in the supply of safe water, hygienic food practices, and sanitation.

The government of Malaysia continually outlines the policies and strategies to ensure accessibility to safe and clean drinking water supply and sanitary facilities in its national plans. These policies and strategies promote collaboration between relevant agencies in preventing and controlling contamination of raw water sources used for consumption and the continuous monitoring and surveillance of drinking water quality. The country also formulated several acts that serve to protect water sources from contamination. The Ministry of Health established the National Drinking Water Quality Standards (NDWQS) in 1983 stipulating limits for physical, chemi cal, microbiological, and radiological parameters and compliance with these standards is mandatory for all private water suppliers.


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