It often seems like Malaysia alternates between raining and flooding or being hot and dry, but in either scenario peat swaps have a significant factor in regulating the environment. 

Unfortunately, the important role that peat swamps play in the environment wasn’t noticed before and over the years they have been systematically cleared, drained and finally burned to be replaced with agricultural plantations. 

One of the most important roles of peat swamps is as a buffer against flooding and a source of water during droughts in the dry season as they retain rainwater and release it over time. As global warming results in more extreme weather, the role of peat swamps has become even more crucial.

The only such peat swamp forest left in Johor is the Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve, which is under threat from the agriculture industry and has already been drained in some areas to supply water to the surrounding plantations and estates. And that makes it extremely vulnerable to destruction by fire because the soil itself is extremely flammable when dry. 

Covering 3,7979 hectares, the Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve which is located in the district of Muar is part of the two year "Water For Life” programme where Coca-Cola is working to rehabilitate an area of it in partnership with Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Aid Malaysia (Muslim Aid) together with the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) and Johor State Forestry Department.

FRIM and the Forestry Department are providing the technical advice, restoration and rehabilitation work while Muslim Aid is coordinating and managing the project and community outreach.

Active measures are now being taken to keep the peat swamp forest safer from destruction by fires during the hot and dry spells such as in 2014 dry season one which damaged a large part of the forest.

That includes the construction of additional check dams in the area to further help protect the forest from fires by helping to retain water in the peat level of the forest by preventing water from flowing out. 

Fire prevention and techniques on how to put out peat swamp forests have also been taught to the community of Mukim Ayer Hitam in Johor together with officers from the Forestry Department. 

“The forest here is prone to fires so we must always be prepared. The volunteer firemen from the local community are the first responders when this happens so they must be prepared,” said the Penghulu for Mukim Ayer Hitam, Mohd Afezan Yahya. 

Aside from putting out fires, the community has also been taught preventive measures that can be caused by themselves through open burning or land clearing. 

In addition to volunteer firefighting training, the Penghulu has also led the community to be involve with activities that feature the peat swamp such as bicycle expeditions, nature appreciation and tree planting.

The goal of the project is to increase water reserves in the area by rehabilitating degraded parts of the peat swamp forest to a level where it will hold more water, eventually leading to an increase of biodiversity. 

This sustainable programme will also create opportunities for the local community to engage in ecotourism activities as a result of the rehabilitation.

“Peat swamp forests are an important part of the ecosystem and because of the degradation in this area, water replenishment is an important part of its conservation that Coca-Cola is hoping to achieve,” said Coca-Cola Malaysia’s Public Affairs and Communications Director, Kadri Taib.