Lov­ing our wa­ters

The River of Life project has laud­able goals but pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion is key to its suc­cess.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Ecowatch - By WONG LI ZA star2­green@thes­tar.com.my

EN­VI­SION your­self strolling along or en­joy­ing snacks at the land­scaped river­fronts of two his­toric rivers in Kuala Lumpur – Sun­gai Klang and Sun­gai Gom­bak.

In three years, that and more is set to ma­te­ri­alise as part of the RM4.4bil River of Life (RoL) project, which in­volves those two rivers plus another six trib­u­taries, all lo­cated within the Greater KL and Klang Val­ley re­gion.

The three ma­jor com­po­nents of the project are river clean­ing and beau­ti­fi­ca­tion plus com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion/tourism.

A to­tal of RM3.4bil alone has been al­lo­cated to clean up the eight rivers, which cover a com­bined 110km. The goal is to get the cur­rent Class III – Class IV wa­ter qual­ity (not suit­able for body con­tact) to Class IIB (suit­able for recre­ational us­age) by 2020.

Beau­ti­fi­ca­tion will fo­cus on a 10.7km stretch along the Klang and Gom­bak river cor­ri­dors (by 2019), while com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion and tourism within the same river­fronts will take place from 2020 on­wards.

As of Au­gust this year, 81% of the 110km has been cleaned up, cov­er­ing the mu­nic­i­pal ar­eas of De­wan Ban­daraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), Ma­jlis Per­ban­daran Se­layang (MPS) and Ma­jlis Per­ban­daran Am­pang Jaya (MPAJ), while 49% of beau­ti­fi­ca­tion work has been com­pleted.

Ap­prox­i­mately 170,000 tonnes of rub­bish each year end up in the Klang River, some of which comes from mostly un­treated sewage dis­charged di­rectly into the rivers, caus­ing ma­jor pol­lu­tion.

Ng Kok Seng, di­rec­tor of the river basin man­age­ment di­vi­sion of the Drainage and Ir­ri­ga­tion De­part­ment (DID) said iden­ti­fy­ing the source of pol­lu­tion is key to the project (DID is head­ing the River Clean­ing Task Force).

Old toi­let trou­bles

The bad news is that about half of pol­lu­tion comes from icky toi­let waste or sew­er­age.

“On­go­ing works like sew­er­age treat­ment plant up­grad­ing and con­nec­tion of in­di­vid­ual sep­tic tanks into treat­ment plant net­works are all on sched­ule,” said Ng, over an in­ter­view at his of­fice.

By 2020, the aim is to dras­ti­cally re­duce such sew­er­age pol­lu­tion. How­ever, there is one hitch. The old hous­ing ar­eas, which have in­di­vid­ual sep­tic tanks that dis­charge waste into the river, con­sti­tute about 20% of the to­tal project.

“Even if we have a com­bined sys­tem, we are not sure if the in­di­vid­ual houses will pay to con­nect to the main sew­er­age sys­tem,” said Ng.

Con­nect­ing to the main sys­tem will mean hack­ing the kitchen area in those houses, which res­i­dents may be re­luc­tant to do even if the costs of re­con­nec­tion are borne by gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

To help achieve the project’s goals, DID, to­gether with the Global En­vi­ron­ment Cen­tre (GEC), is spear­head­ing the River of Life Pub­lic Out­reach Pro­gramme (RoLPOP), which first started in 2013. The pro­gramme in­volves on-the­ground ed­u­ca­tion so that peo­ple care more for rivers.

RoL-POP started with Phase 1, in­volv­ing the up­per Klang River basin. Cur­rently, the pro­gramme is into Phase 5 and more work will con­tinue till 2020.

Phase 5 cov­ers a catch­ment area of 98sq km within the mu­nic­i­pal area of DBKL, in­volv­ing Sun­gai Gom­bak, Sun­gai Batu, Sun­gai Jin­jang, Sun­gai Keroh and the western part of Sun­gai Klang.

The tar­get groups un­der the pro­gramme are 1) the lo­cal com­mu­nity; 2) ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions; 3) food es­tab­lish­ments (hawk­ers, work­shops and wet mar­kets); 4) in­dus­try, cor­po­ra­tions and de­vel­op­ers; and 5) the gen­eral pub­lic.

One main as­pect of the pro­gramme is to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on the need to desludge their sep­tic tanks.

“Cur­rently no­body both­ers to desludge be­cause it is not com­pul­sory to do so yet for in­di­vid­ual sep­tic tanks,” said Dr K Kalithasan, co­or­di­na­tor of GEC’s river care pro­gramme and RoL-POP project co­or­di­na­tor.

“That’s why we want to show peo­ple what is the im­pact on the Klang River by not desludg­ing. Peo­ple al­ways com­plain that the river is so dirty with­out re­ally know­ing that they are one of the fac­tors of the pol­lu­tion,” he said.

Another chal­lenge is in chang­ing the mind­set and be­hav­iour of peo­ple, which is a long term process.

Th­ese are our rivers

Ng said it’s un­for­tu­nate that peo­ple still see the river as a place to throw their rub­bish and don’t see the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing clean rivers.

“When the gov­ern­ment has to clean the river, the money comes from tax pay­ers, so peo­ple need to think about this be­fore they pol­lute the river. The river be­longs to ev­ery­body. When we take care of the river, we will have a cleaner en­vi­ron­ment, bet­ter qual­ity of life and the eco­nomic value of the sur­round­ing ar­eas will also go up,” he em­pha­sised.

Main­tain­ing clean drains is also a cru­cial part of keep­ing our rivers clean, said Kalithasan.

“Hous­ing and mon­soon drains all lead to the river. If ev­ery­one can look af­ter their own back­yard, it will save the Gov­ern­ment a lot of money. We want peo­ple to be proac­tive and re­spon­si­ble, and treat our river as an as­set and not a li­a­bil­ity,” he said.

Added Ng, “Ul­ti­mately, we want peo­ple to own and adopt the river. Once they do that, it’s like their own house and they will take bet­ter care of it.”

Kalithasan said 50 years ago,

peo­ple de­pended di­rectly on the river for their source of wa­ter, food and also trans­porta­tion.

“But com­mu­ni­ties now are dis­con­nected from the river. Un­der our RoL-POP strat­egy, we want to re­con­nect them and high­light that they are the root cause and also ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the river’s con­di­tion,” he ex­plained.

The Pub­lic Out­reach Pro­gramme will also see the “Cit­i­zen Eye” app launched by end of the year. The app al­lows the pub­lic to snap pho­tos re­lated to the RoL project and send them to the rel­e­vant par­ties and au­thor­i­ties for ac­tion or as in­for­ma­tion.

“There are lim­ited re­sources within the rel­e­vant agen­cies,” said Kalithasan. “That’s why we are em­pow­er­ing the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, gen­eral pub­lic and even schools to be our eyes and ears. Through the app, we also want to high­light and share the good work be­ing done by var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties.”

Cur­rently, about 70% of the com­mu­ni­ties within the pro­gramme is in­volved in What­sapp groups to keep abreast of the project’s de­vel­op­ment.

“This puts pres­sure on agen­cies, con­sul­tants and also NGOs, so it’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

A rub­bish trap along the Gom­bak river. Some­one has even dis­carded a whole fridge! — Ber­nama

The up­per reaches of the Gom­bak river are still pris­tine enough for fish­ing. — Ber­nama

(From left) Kalithasan, co­or­di­na­tor of GEC’s river care pro­gramme and RoLPOP project co­or­di­na­tor. Ng, di­rec­tor of the river basin man­age­ment di­vi­sion with DID. — Pho­tos: NORAFIFI EH­SAN/The Star

River re­hab is on­go­ing as seen here at Masjid Jamek, KL, where the Gom­bak river (left) meets the Klang river.

– M. AZHAR ARIF/The Star

The lo­cal com­mu­nity scoop­ing up rub­bish from Sun­gai Batu, part of the ROL project. — GEC

Chil­dren tak­ing part in the Sun­gai Batu river clean up. — GEC

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