Place water services under NSC, says environmentalist

By Soon Li Wei

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 17 (NNN-BERNAMA) – The recurring incidence of river pollution in this country and frequent disruptions in water supply call for more stringent policies to protect its raw water resources.

According to Global Environment Centre (GEC) chairman Dr K. Kalithasan, the time has come for the government to place water under the auspices of the National Security Council (NSC) as it is considered an essential resource.

(GEC is a non-profit organisation that works on environmental issues of global importance.)

He said 97 percent of the nation’s water supply came from rivers.

As such, he added, whenever a disruption in water supply occurs due to contamination at the raw water source, it should no longer be construed as a small agenda for the state government to look into.

“It should, in fact, be categorised as a national disaster,” he said.

Kalithasan said water cuts due to contamination should not be viewed as a “state-level local issue” because it affects the daily lives of the people, as well as businesses, factories and hospitals, among others.

He also said that the authorities should not let polluters off lightly by slapping them with a compound as it does not serve as an effective deterrent.

“For them, paying a compound of RM60,000 isn’t a problem at all.

“In fact, it is said that some companies already have an allocation to settle compounds whenever they are issued with one for committing an offence. So, in the end, it is the people who have to endure the water cuts,” he said.

He said the existing penalties should be made more severe, including holding the accused liable for the cost of cleaning up a contaminated river.

“Currently, taxpayers’ money is being used to clean up rivers polluted by those offenders. Why should taxpayers bear the huge costs?” he said.

TASK FORCE

The latest in the series of water disruptions in the Klang Valley occurred about 10 days ago after Sungai Gong in Rawang was contaminated by effluents from a heavy machinery maintenance factory located in the Sungai Gong Industrial Area in Rawang, Selangor.

The resulting pollution at the raw water source (Sungai Gong) forced the Sungai Selangor Phase 1, 2, 3 and Rantau Panjang Water Treatment Plants to stop operations, affecting some five million consumers.

Incidentally, the same factory was fined RM60,000 for committing a similar offence in March this year.

Last year, the Klang Valley experienced disruptions in water supply at least nine times, most of which were due to contamination of the raw water supply.

On Monday, Environment and Water Minister Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man announced the establishment of a special task force to look into environmental crimes and boost enforcement activities against polluters.

He said the task force would comprise officials from the Department of Environment (DOE), Water Services Commission (SPAN), Department of Biosafety and the police.

The minister also said that Malaysia’s environmental laws will also be amended to provide for harsher penalties, including imposing higher compounds and fines, suspending the business licences of offenders and compelling them to bear the cost of cleaning up the pollution caused by them.

FOUL ODOUR

In an article written by Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations chairman Lukman Sheriff Alias that was carried by a Malay daily last week, he said imposing a compound of RM60,000 on a polluter is disproportionate to the seriousness of the crime committed.

He said Section 79 of the Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS) Enactment 1999 provides for a maximum fine of RM100,000 or three years imprisonment or both for offences related to pollution of water resources. The Environmental Quality Act 1974 also provides for a similar fine or five years jail term or both.

“The question is, is the RM100,000 fine adequate? It appears to be substantial but it’s insufficient considering that the offender’s action can cause over a million people to suffer (due to disruptions in the water supply),” he wrote.

Kalithasan said the government should consider mobilising the services of the Malaysian Volunteer Corps Department (RELA) to monitor the dumping of industrial effluents into waterways by factories.

“The RELA members can act as the ‘eyes’ of environmental agencies such as DOE and help them to monitor our rivers,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Drainage and Irrigation Department’s River Basin Management Division director Md Khairi Selamat said its monthly bill for cleaning up rivers nationwide comes to about RM500,000.

A bulk of the cleaning work involves removing garbage dumped into rivers by irresponsible people, he said, adding that the department also has to make sure that foul odours are eliminated so as not to cause any discomfort to the people living nearby.

“In Klang river, for instance, the sewage component is quite high and to get rid of its stench, we have to put it through various processes,” he said, adding that plastic waste can sometimes clog up water channels and cause a foul odour to develop.      

Md Khairi also said under the department’s River of Life (RoL) project in the Klang Valley, a mobile application called Citizen’s Eye was introduced two years ago to enable city folks to be the eyes and ears of the authorities and be a part of the city’s river management and cleaning project.  

The application allows the public to share information, photographs or videos of any river-related activities.

“People living near riverbanks or who go there for recreational activities can use this app to share information, which can be either complaints or comments on the river’s level of cleanliness,” he added.

Translated by Rema Nambiar