NST Leader: Rotten rivers?

Here we go again. Every time our water gets polluted, there is a frantic rush to amend either the Water Industry Act 2006 or the Environmental Quality Act 1974, as if laws can get us all to behave.

NST Leader: Rotten rivers?

NST Leader: Rotten rivers?© Provided by New Straits Times

Water pollution isn't going to go away, even with a million amendments to our laws. Fines, like the RM20 million being proposed by the National Water Services Commission, will not end pollution.

What will is a serious look at the big picture. River catchment morphology is a good place to start, says water quality and modeling expert Dr Zaki Zainudin.

Catchment morphology is a big term for many, but Zaki simplifies it thus: whatever that is released upstream will flow downstream, where the water intakes are located. Pollution happens when a river's carrying capacity is breached.

Zaki and others of similar minds have been calling for the protection of our water catchments, particularly those in upstream areas, to be protected for the longest time. His view is that ideally, there should not be any development that poses pollution risks there.

Or in the not-so-ideal Malaysia, at least high-risk developments should be thwarted, he grants. Policymakers and politicians appear not to be listening.

Do not go away thinking that factories are the only ones in the rogues' gallery. There are enough others to bathe in the infamy there. But there is some ambivalence in the way the authorities treat pollution.

They seem to allow permissible pollution while punishing impermissible ones. Such muddle only encourages more pollution, not less. Be that as it may, a pertinent question needs asking.

Do these operators know that there are water intake points downstream? Most probably not. Zaki says these laymen, as he labels them, may be oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Or inaction.

Like many Malaysians, most of the operators in the polluters' list do not understand river catchment morphology. We do not know if the owner of the heavy machinery that caused a diesel spill at the banks of Sungai Selangor on Saturday is a "layman".

Layman or not, the owner must be told of the consequences of his harm. A total of 1,337 areas in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur suffered shutdowns. He and many others in Malaysia need an education.

Japan has done a good job of educating its people on river catchment morphology. We must do the same if the big picture is what we are after.

Looking at the big picture also means seeing and doing the same things at the federal and state levels. Putrajaya can do all the patchwork amendments to the laws it wants, but if the states have another view, then disarray is the answer. Plus, laws, such as EQA 1974, do not cover all sources of pollution, says Associate Professor Dr Maizatun Mustafa of the Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyah of Laws, International Islamic University Malaysia. But such legal "control" isn't impossible, if what is done at the federal level is mirrored at the state level. But this is a big "if". Politics and economics appear to be driving the two in different directions. Rivers cross state and federal borders. So must our guardians of the rivers, be they in the states or the federal territories. To not do so is to allow our rivers to die a filthy death.

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd

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