Mainstreaming of Biodiversity Conservation into River Management

What is the project about?


Malaysia has some 157 river systems, as well a variety of tropical wetlands, forests and marine ecosystems, representing several Global 200 Ecoregions, and it is recognized as one of 17 mega-diverse countries in the world. Its river systems as well as riparian and catchment forests support an immense diversity of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, including more than 600 freshwater fish species. River and floodplain wetland systems occupy some 3.9 million ha or 10% of the country’s land area.

These river systems provide ecosystem services benefiting both rural communities and urban societies, including water supply, artisanal fisheries, the aquarium fish industry, transport routes, tourism and recreation. However, Malaysia’s rivers face threats from a wide range of pressures that threaten their biodiversity and ecological stability, with ongoing loss of genetic resources, ecosystem services and national and local socio-economic benefits.

As called for in Malaysia’s Common Vision on Biodiversity, the long term solution that this project will pursue is to  maintain the integrity of aquatic ecosystems through mainstreaming biodiversity considerations into river basin management. Accordingly, federal and state agencies concerned with river basin management will have effective collaborative arrangements in place, and riverine biodiversity will be managed according to an integrated river basin and ecosystem-based approach.

However the following barriers constrain the achievement of the vision and plan: (1) Sub-optimal enabling framework and capacity for riverine biodiversity management; and (2) absence of successfully demonstrated experiences in integrated river management. In the baseline situation, the majority of river sections and associated biodiversity are found outside the protected area system in Malaysia.  Therefore, it is critical for the conservation of riverine biodiversity that clear strategies and plans are developed to conserve riverine biodiversity in productive landscapes covering more than 80% of Malaysia’s land area.  The government agencies and other stakeholders responsible for management of these areas do not normally have biodiversity conservation as one of their main objectives. The Government’s principal focus in river management remains flood mitigation, water supply and pollution control with little consideration for riverine biodiversity and habitat management. Uncoordinated management of riverine areas will continue to put pressure on biodiversity from habitat conversion, degradation and pollution.  A lack of inter-agency coordination, strategy, capacity and resources will mean that threats to riverine biodiversity will continue to grow, and will likely lead to further habitat fragmentation and destruction. It is therefore imperative to mainstream biodiversity conservation principles into their work and responsibilities, as well as in the practices of other stakeholders.

In the alternative scenario enabled by the GEF, the institutional barriers to integrated and coordinated riverine landscape management will be removed at the national and state levels, backed by development and adoption of an inter-agency strategy to mainstream biodiversity into river management, which provides the foundation for coordinated planning, management including enforcement and compliance monitoring mechanisms. The capacity of key institutions responsible for river management will be strengthened.  Integrated riverine biodiversity management will be demonstrated for three different situations in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah. The GEF financing will also help catalyze support from both private and public sectors as well as communities towards conservation objectives in the project areas, and provide a mechanism to use such support to generate sustained long-term improvements in riverine biodiversity.


What do we hope to accomplish?

The Project Objective is to mainstream biodiversity conservation into riverine landscapes through improved river planning and management practices. Component 1 addresses the need for an operational national institutional framework and capacity for a more integrated and holistic approach to river management that takes riverine biodiversity into account, while Component 2 will demonstrate best management practices for riverine habitats in three different situations (a forested water supply reservoir catchment area, an urban river, and a rural river impacted by plantation development and smallholder land uses). 

The global environmental benefits that will be secured by the overall project will result from strengthened sustainable management of Malaysia’s river systems and associated riverine buffer zones and catchment areas that specifically takes into account biodiversity conservation. The areas covered by major river basins include several Global 200 Ecoregions in East and West Malaysia, including tropical lowland, mangrove, peat and freshwater swamp-forests, submontane and montane forests. A wide range of globally threatened species occur in the project demonstration sites’ riparian forests as well as rare and endemic riverine species.

The project supports the objectives of 10th Malaysia Plan, National Wetlands Policy 2004, National Integrated River Basin Management Plan and Malaysia’s Common Vison on Biodiversity, 2008. It also benefits from 3 on-going UNDP projects in Malaysia, namely, PA, NBSAP, IC-CFS projects.

Who finances it?



Amount (USD)


Total resources required            



National Government (NRE):



Selangor State Government



Perak State Government



Sabah State Government









Cost Sharing


UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Malaysia 
Go to UNDP Global