Ipoh’s Limestone Mountains Turning to Dust

Ipoh Postcard 1970Ipoh is one of Malaysia’s most attractive towns. It has expanded enormously since this postcard photo was taken 45 years ago but it still has a pleasant feel to it with wide tree-lined avenues, grand historic buildings and friendly people.

Limestone hills south of IpohBest of all, Ipoh is ringed with scenic hills and studded with distinctive limestone karst towers, many of which contain caves and cave temples. The limestone filters and purifies the city’s water supply which in turn waters the fruit and vegetable farms and is said to enhance the flavour of the area’s famed cuisine.

Ipoh's limestone hills seen from afar.

Ipoh is sometimes called Little Guilin, referring to the Chinese region famed for its spectacular hills, pictured below (source:Wikipedia).

20090503_6305_GuilinGiven the tourism value of this scenery you would think that Ipoh’s local government would do all in its power to preserve and protect these 400 million year old hills, especially since Perak Tourism has just launched a campaign to promote the state as an eco-tourism destination. So it is rather surprising and disturbing that a number of the area’s mountains are being quarried and turned into cement and marble like this one:

Quarrying activity near Ipoh

And this one:

Quarrying activity near Ipoh

These are not isolated cases as this Google satellite image of  Simpang Pulai shows:

Google image showing quarrying activity at Simpang Pulai

The French cement giant Lafarge (which has a local Malaysian subsidiary) attracts a lot of negative media coverage for its quarrying of Ipoh’s eco-sensitive areas but it is far from the only company involved. Of course the world needs cement but there must be other, less conspicuous sources. Lafarge’s website says its goal is to create a better world by providing cement to build hospitals, schools and so on, but is it essential to demolish Ipoh’s most distinctive geographical features in the process?  How would the French public react if an Asian company were to start digging up the French Alps?