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In the aftermath of the mud flood that struck Bertam Valley in October 2013, it was revealed that homes, cars and lives had been lost due to the heavy deforestation in Cameron Highlands. An operation against illegal farms and illegal workers was then launched there. — TRP pic by Fernando Fong
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KUALA LUMPUR, April 7, 2015:
A Singaporean student from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is hoping to increase environmental awareness and promote behavioural change through an interactive documentary.
Yeo Kai Wen, from the university’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, had completed The Disappearing Hills earlier this month.
It is an interactive documentary website that investigated the aftermath in Cameron Highlands following a mud flood in October 2013 which killed several people and destroyed countless homes and more than 100 vehicles.
The site, which has reached more than 30,000 viewers so far, also looked into the issues facing illegal migrant workers, farmers and the environment, especially deforestation.
Yeo spent three months interviewing different people, including farmers, shopkeepers, teachers and housewives, who survived the mud flood but lost everything.
Some of the flood photographs and videos were provided by the locals, including a Malay woman whose house was swept away.
He also used quad-copters (a multirotor helicopter that is lifted and propelled by four rotors) to record the landscape of Cameron Highlands, revealing massive deforestation in the region.
Yeo has always been interested in food security issues, with Singapore being a country that relies heavily on its neighbours for vegetables and agricultural produce.
He opined that Singapore had transferred its demand for resources, environmental burden and food across borders.
Yeo felt that Singaporeans should be aware of where their vegetables and water came from, and at what environmental cost.
“Cameron Highlands came to mind partly because I visited the region in June last year for a short holiday
“I saw the amount of deforestation going on in Brinchang where I was staying back then.
“I became curious to know what the impact was on people because there were bound to be some repercussions when over-development of land occurs,” he told The Rakyat Post.
After doing some initial online research, he decided that it was an issue that deserved more comprehensive coverage from the grassroots.
He said the project would not have been possible without the candour of the many Malaysians who openly shared their stories.
Yeo tried to be as neutral as possible and hoped that the people could decide for themselves on what needed to be done after they had watched the documentary.
“I felt that the flood stories were important because without the floods, Ops Gading might not have taken place,” he said.
Ops Gading is an operation by the National Security Council (NSC) to get rid of all illegal farms in Cameron Highlands.
Based on his experience in completing the documentary, Yeo said it was going to be very difficult to turn around the situation in Cameron Highlands.
“While working on the project, I felt very torn apart when speaking to the farmers.
“Many of them are just trying to earn a living. They don’t see the long-term problem of over-development,” he said.
Amid the sea of grievances and lamentations, one particular statement, repeated by almost every Cameronian that he interviewed, struck a chord in him.
They felt that greed was the cause of the problems in Cameron Highlands.
But for Yeo, he found it hard to associate greed with the Cameronians, given the hospitality shown by the locals.
“Everyone knows what is happening, but ultimately we can only slow down the process of environmental destruction.
“Pointing fingers isn’t going to do any good. Education, especially for the farmers, will be the key.”
He warned that once the climate changes, Cameron Highlands will no longer be a hill station where people can find respite from the lowland heat.
The “Disappearing Hills” project is at http://disappearinghills.com/