An average of 2,200 tonnes pollute rivers monthly despite campaigns

Dirty and stinky: Contract workers wading through the waters at the downstream of Batu River in Selangor to clear trash trapped at the log boom. – ROYCE TAN/The Star

IPOH: Every second, someone is dumping rubbish into Malaysian waterways and an average of 2,200 tonnes of rubbish is being collected every month from traps built across rivers in the country.

In just the upper part of Sungai Klang, which includes Sungai Gombak and Sungai Batu, a total of 21 tonnes of rubbish is collected monthly.

The rubbish is collected from 11 trash screens built across rivers, and from 500 gross pollutant traps built in drains to prevent rubbish from flowing into rivers.

“This means that every day, people along the upper areas of Sungai Klang are throwing 700kg of rubbish into drains and rivers,” said Malaysian Water Partnership (MyWP) vice-chairman Datuk Hanapi Mohamad Noor.

“Despite numerous programmes and campaigns by the authorities, including the ‘Love Our River’ campaign launched more than 10 years ago, not much progress has been achieved,” he said in an interview.

“The campaign was to create public awareness and sensitivity towards the need for cleaner rivers. Yet, the responsibility is always left to the authorities without much support from the people,” he said.

Hanapi, who is a former DID River Basin Management Division director, said Sungai Klang was not the most polluted river but still significant as it flows into the Kuala Lumpur city centre.

Malaysians, he said, must understand that trash thrown onto roads or other public spaces would end up in the drains and rivers after the rain.

Hanafi said adequate funding for maintenance of drains and preservation of rivers had always been a problem.

The cleaning of rivers was not a one-off programme but should be carried out throughout the year, he said, adding that this meant that there was a need for an annual budget of about RM100mil yearly to clean the rivers in Malaysia.

As for the laws, he said they were adequate in dealing with litterbugs but there was a lack of enforcement.

“Singapore is seen to be successful in maintaining a cleaner environment, including the drains and rivers due to its strict enforcement of laws,” he said.

In Malaysia, he said 97% of water used for domestic, industrial and irrigation purposes came from surface water in rivers and reservoirs.

Hanapi cautioned that water supply to users would be affected if rivers were seriously polluted, since the upper section of intake points of water treatment plants, and operation for the plants would have to be closed then.

This, he said, had happened several times in Sungai Langat in Selangor when the river at the water supply intake points was found to be polluted with ammoniacal nitrogen.

“If more people realise that the water they are drinking comes from rivers, they may think twice before polluting it. The cost for water treatment can get really high. This could even lead to higher water tariffs,” he added.

Hanapi said the amount of rubbish that ended up in rivers was actually higher because not all rivers were installed with rubbish traps or log booms.

This also excludes the garbage that is collected by local authorities from drains, he added. 

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