A country hosts millions of tourists for its pristine, beautiful water beaches, yet the significant problem is water pollution!

In Malaysia, water pollution is a significant problem that threatens the long-term viability of water resources.

Not only that, but it also impacts plants and living beings and the population’s health, and the economy.

Despite the abundance of water resources in the basin, the total availability of water is lowered because the expense of treating contaminated water is too high, and dirty water is not always suitable for consumption. 

River contamination prevents all consumers from receiving an appropriate supply. The watersheds’ development leads to a rise in population and urban life.

The quality of runoff in a basin is often altered due to urbanization, impacting the water quality of receiving waters. Let us look at the sources of water pollution below:

Table of Contents

1. Sewage

A Government initiative  to manage all the unmanaged sewage
A Government initiative to manage all the unmanaged sewage | Image Credit – Ecava IGX

With billions of people on the Earth, sewage waste disposal is enormous. Malaysian rivers continue to suffer from sewage water pollution.

Existing facilities in these countries are quickly undersized as urban population growth outpaces investment, as sewage generation typically increases with population and economic development.

Even though it exists in Malaysia, 72 percent of the 473 rivers monitored by the Department of Environment are protected by legislation that preserves water quality.

Malaysia (“the DOE”) was deemed contaminated in 2013, with 25 rivers classed as extremely polluted6.

Several rivers have a high Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) and are contaminated with ammoniacal nitrogen (NH3-N) and other pollutants.

The beginnings of sewage treatment plants, raw sewage discharge from settlers, and home sullage are examples of polluted wastewater.

Sewage is one of the leading forces driving the deterioration of coral reefs worldwide.

For example, in Malaysia, sewage pollution has led to the spread of algae on coral reefs of several islands.

Apart from that, according to the DOE Selangor Annual Report 2013, untreated or partially treated sewage has contributed to a high level of ammoniacal nitrogen (AN) in river water and a high level of E.coli in marine water along the beach in Selangor. A similar problem is also suffered by many beaches in other parts of Malaysia.

2. Urbanization

Malaysia is experiencing fast urbanization and population growth. This growth leads to an increased demand for water and spiked water pollution levels. These factors solemnly destroy the water quality in Malaysia.

The water supply is contaminated by various human, residential, industrial, commercial, and transportation contaminants. As a result of polluting water sources, major health risks arise.

Water quality in Malaysia, as well as access to water in general, is a significant problem. 

The primary pollutants present in the water are Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Ammoniacal Nitrogen, and Suspended Solids. 

These are consequences of untreated or only partially treated sewage. Lakes and reservoirs serve as domestic, industrial, agricultural, hydroelectric, maritime, and recreational water sources.

3. Livestock and domestic wastewater

Livestock and domestic wastewater
Livestock and domestic wastewater | Image Credit – Unsplash

One of the other causes of water pollution in Malaysia is the livestock in agricultural production. The improper management of livestock waste affects the groundwater directly. 

Johor Veterinary Services Department Director Dr. Aida Muhid said the state has over 778 livestock farms that are licensed and come under the Grades A to C categories under the Malaysian Good Agricultural Practices.

Another 21 livestock farms are in the Grades D and E categories. The farms operating for 30 to 40 years, and these farms mainly apply farming methods that can pose a risk to the environment. They can cause river pollution and stench, noise, and health issues.

4. Disposal of garbage in rivers

What we throw into drains ends up in rivers
What we throw into drains ends up in rivers | Image Credit – The Star

While river water is not contaminated by human activity, it is generally potable (suitable for human consumption) with minimal treatment.

Solid waste is one of the significant environmental problems in Malaysia and is significantly reducing our environment’s capacity to sustain life.

Over 17,000 tonnes of waste are produced each day in Malaysia and thrown into rivers. The amount of waste generated continues to increase due to the increasing population and development, and less than 5% of the waste is recycled.

Kuala Lumpur needs to reduce its dependence on landfills due to its population density, and an alternative solution such as an incinerator is challenging to implement. Hence managing solid waste in Malaysia is still a big challenge.

5. Oil spill

Johor oil spill | Video Credit – NST Online

Oil spills, standard shipping, runoffs, and dumping damage the oceans daily. Oil spills account for around 12% of all oil entering the sea.

The remainder is derived via shipping, drainage, and dumping. Because there is such a large amount of oil spilled in one spot, an oil spill from a tanker is a severe hazard.

Oil spills are a localized concern, but they can be disastrous for local marine fauna like fish, birds, and sea otters as oil do not dissolve in water and instead forms a thick sludge.

Malaysia’s coastal waters also experience oil pollution from bilge pumping and tank cleaning, which leads to the dumping of oil and sludge by ocean-going vessels. Collisions and groundings of ocean-going tankers also cause oil pollution.

6. Intensive farming

Farmers increase rice yield with help of pesticides | Image Credit – International Atomic Energy Agency

Agriculture is the single largest cause of non-point-source pollution to surface water and groundwater, accounting for 70% of total water usage worldwide.

Rice farming in Malaysia, for example, necessitates fertilizers such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and other components to promote growth. To feed the crop, they must be applied regularly.

There are two types of fertilizers: natural organic manure and synthetic fertilizers made in factories.

Rice farming also requires the application of toxic chemicals to keep pests at bay. Fertilizers and pesticides increase yield, which is crucial for ensuring food security in Malaysia, where rice is a staple.

However, they will taint the surface water when applied in excess or in an uncontrolled manner. Various studies have already demonstrated that rice cultivation is one of the critical sources of environmental pollution. 

7. Industrial waste

Documentary on Industrial Pollution | Image Credit – CNA Insider

Water pollution is caused by industries and industrial sites all over the world. Many industrial sites generate waste in the form of dangerous chemicals and pollutants, and while some are controlled, others lack suitable waste management systems. 

Industrial waste is occasionally thrown into surrounding freshwater systems. Paper, cartons, plastics, bottles, and metal scraps (copper, aluminum, tin, zinc, and solder, among others) are immediately discharged from factories and are currently disposed of in the water.

Generally, all land use and anthropogenic activities pose a grievous threat to the aquatic ecosystem in the river and the provinces in which river water is used as the domestic supply.

Semenyih River in Malaysia negatively associates human activities associated with industrialization mining activities are highly primary sources of pollution.

8. Plastic Dumping in Oceans

Unlike food and paper wastes, plastics cannot be permanently eradicated from the environment when left to decay in rivers.

This dumping is a significant concern for their disposal in the solid waste management cycle. Plastics require hundreds to thousands of years to break down into smaller plastic fragments, also known as microplastics (plastics smaller than 5 mm in length).

As a result, plastics will collect on Earth, reducing landfill space and contributing to an almost irreversible environmental degradation.

Most municipal solid household waste in Malaysia is regularly disposed of in rivers, and post-consumer plastic recycling is limited.

Malaysia is one of the ten countries facing the most significant threat from improper plastic waste management. Malaysia produces more than 0.94 million tonnes of mismanaged plastics wastes per year.

Almost half (0.4 million tons) of the 0.9 million tons of plastic garbage improperly dumped into Malaysian seas.

Plastic shopping bags, cigarette buds, and plastic bottles are among the most prevalent plastic pollutants observed along the Malaysian coastline.

9. Eutrophication

A result of Using excessive chemical fertilizers when farming
Eutrophication | Image Credit – Unsplash

Eutrophication is caused by surplus nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen entering lakes and reservoirs.

Water quality classification in all seasons where the quality slightly differs in summer and winter compared to the post-monsoon season are reasons to introduce water quality change and measures to be taken in groundwater quality management.

Discharge of toxic chemicals, over-pumping of the aquifer, and contamination of water bodies with a substance that promote algae growth are some of today’s major cause for the degradation of water quality.

Direct contamination of surface water with metals discharges of mining, smelting, and industrial manufacturing is a long-standing phenomenon.

The traces of contamination include surface water and groundwater bodies, which are susceptible to leach from waste dumps, mine tailings, and industrial production sites.

In general, water quality status can provide helpful information on land activities within the catchment area; for example, the deterioration of water quality at Tasik Chini has been raised due to their correlation with agriculture and mining activities.


As a result, providing a green light to clean and safe water has become a considerable task for water authorities to overcome. Some of the measures could be:

1. Water quality monitoring procedures and water conservation are recommended,

2. Water suppliers must ensure a consistent tap water supply and offer drinkable water,

3. The primary contaminants in the country’s marine waters are suspended particles, E. coli, and oil and grease needs to be controlled,

4. Proper management of the primary pollutants in groundwater are solid waste landfills, radioactive landfills, etc.


In a nutshell, water pollution is a severe problem in Malaysia that threatens the long-term viability of water resources.

To prevent water from pollution, it is critical that we prioritize personal awareness as the most crucial advice.

For the contribution and support of local and national groups to solve environmental disasters at institutional, national, and worldwide levels, our interaction has become necessary.

We should advocate for a larger public awareness campaign to influence public attitudes, habits, and expectations, as well as to educate people about the importance of developing an ecological conscience.

(Last Updated on May 19, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Thinley Doma Ghale holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Kathmandu University. She enjoys writing articles on climate change animals and loves to travel and experience new ideas, places, meeting people, and learning from them. As a social science student, research has always been her area of interest.