The Kinabatangan River is the largest and longest river in the Malaysian state of Sabah. It has a main channel length of about 560km, a catchment area of about 16,800km2 and covers almost 23% of the total land area of Sabah.
Mean annual rainfall in the catchment is between 2,500mm and 3,000mm. Clearing for logging, combined with expanding agriculture and palm oil plantations has led to the loss and fragmentation of important animal and plant habitats, increased flooding, and pollution of the river due to pesticides and fertilizers.
Problems of pollution have been further exacerbated by sewage and refuse from villages along the river. Key stakeholders are the Orang Sungai (the local river people), the palm oil industry, and the ecotourism industry. The unique biodiversity of the area means that the lower Kinabatangan is increasingly recognised as an important destination for ecotourism.
Working in partnership, the Sabah Wildlife Department and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have established the 26,000ha Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. The ongoing plan is to create and maintain a protected floodplain corridor for the conservation of habitats and species, as well as to mitigate the impact of erosion and flooding.
Alliances have been forged between conservation and development interests through demonstration of sustainable use activities that others can follow. Planned future activities include, rehabilitating riparian vegetation on palm plantations to prevent further erosion and sedimentation; promoting best practices in agricultural chemicals and effluent management; identifying areas prone to flooding that are unsuitable for palm plantations, but can be set aside for wildlife.
- Stress the economic and social benefits of environmental protection and incorporate this principle into planning and decision-making
- Begin with small, feasible projects to create working examples that demonstrate the above
- That with a strategic and integrated approach it is possible to satisfy conflicting interests in a way that protects the river, the flora and the fauna of the area, while ensuring there is water management for industry, industrial agriculture, the environment and local food production.
Importance of the case for IWRM
This case illustrates how the conflicting interests of key stakeholders can be integrated to bring about a sustainable environmental and socio-economic solution that is valued by local people.
Plantation and industry owners, villagers, and eco-lodge owners have harmonizedtheir interests in a way that protects the river, the flora and the fauna of the area,while ensuring there is water management for industry, palm plantations, theenvironment and food production.
Photo credit: Colin Zhu