Malaysia: Expert paints grim picture with future El Nino episodes

The Star 17 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Future El Nino episodes could be hotter, drier and would worsen river pollution.

Climatologist Prof Datuk Dr Shaharuddin Ahmad from Univer­­siti Kebangsaan Malaysia said global warming could bring a multiplier effect to the El Nino weather pattern, raising temperatures further.

“We could get a situation of higher than normal temperatures due to global warming going up even further when El Nino happens – an ‘El Nino Plus’,” said Shaharuddin.

He said the current episode of El Nino, which was causing dams to dry up and threatening water supply in various states, should serve as a wake-up call to Malaysians.

“We have to open the minds of people on what could happen if we continue to waste water. If it gets worse, measures such as cloud seeding will only have a limited effect,” he said.

Furthermore, severe hot spells could lead to worsened pollution in rivers since pollutants discharged into water bodies could not be diluted, thus disrupting water flow.

Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (AWER) president S. Piarapakaran said ammonia pollution, the most common cause of water treatment plant shutdowns, would be harder to clean up if El Nino starts to lower the water level in rivers.

“The contaminants need lots of water to dilute, so dry weather with no rainfall will make clean-ups harder.”

He said many treatments need to be upgraded to improve their ability to clean up ammonia contamination.

He said the extra equipment needed for this required space which plants located in dense urban areas do no have.

One solution, said Piarapakaran, would be to set up “ammonia stripping” facilities in the rivers upstream from the water intakes, which AWER proposed in 2014.

“This is going to be a repetitive problem so we need a permanent solution now instead of waiting for things to get worse before acting on it.”

Hot spell can worsen river pollution
CHRISTINA CHIN The Star 17 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Of the 477 rivers monitored by the Department of Environment last year, 168 were slightly polluted while 33 were polluted, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said.

The number of clean rivers, however, has increased from 244 in 2014 to 276 last year. Water quality was assessed from a total of 5,469 samples taken nationwide.

The main reasons for the pollution was high levels of bio-chemical oxygen demand, ammoniacal nitrogen and suspended solids due to inadequate treatment of sewage and effluents from agro-based and manufacturing industries, animal farming, domestic waste and improper earthworks and land clearing activities, the Natural Resources and Environment Minister said.

“Why polluted? Because of domestic and industrial waste, and buffer zones between development areas and rivers that aren’t big enough.

“Siltation goes into the river and reduces river capacity and quality. Once water quality is bad, even the machine used to purify and make it drinkable, will stop functioning. Some rivers are reaching that level,” Dr Wan Junaidi said in an interview.

It would be alarming if the main rivers that supply raw water for public consumption was polluted, he said, adding that the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) – a new mechanism used in developed nations – would be implemented this year to assess the permissible pollution load of rivers.

Research has been done locally on the mechanism that sets the maximum amount of a pollutant which a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards, but operating it full-scale hasn’t been worked out yet, he said.

Under the current assessment method, the pollution level was based on the concentration of pollutants.

TMDL, which will complement the existing assessment method, was the best way of controlling pollution because the carrying capacity of each river could be identified and enforced, he said.

“The pilot project findings will be presented to the respective state governments for legislation and enactment.

“It’s the states that will determine TMDL’s effectiveness,” he said, adding that RM50mil was approved under the 11th Malaysia Plan for the integrated management of 25 main river basins, each measuring over 8,000ha, nationwide.

The move, he said, would improve water quality, reduce flood risks, ensure water supply and protect the environment.

On April 3, Sunday Star reported that despite having four times more than what we need, dry taps were part of life here.

The main reason, according to Institution of Engineers Malaysia president Datuk Lim Chow Hock was pollution.

Worrying about La Nina floods as we bake under El Nino heat
RAZAK AHMAD The Star 17 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: It’s ironic that Malaysians burning under the merciless El Nino heatwave that is drying up rivers and reservoirs will have to face possible monster floods at year end.

The latest data from a US climate agency said there was a 60% chance that El Nino “sibling” La Nina – which in Malaysia causes heavier than normal rainfall – will happen sometime from October to Decem­ber (see graphic).

“We should be on the lookout from now, especially in areas prone to floods during the year-end northeast monsoon season,” said climate expert Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah.

El Nino, which means “the boy” in Spanish, is an irregular weather phenomenon that causes sea temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean to rise while La Nina, “the girl” in Spanish, leads to a cooling of seawater.

La Nina often takes place after El Nino ends.

Both lead to unusually heavy rainfall in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.

Dr Azizan, who is director of Universiti Malaya’s National Antarc­tic Research Centre, said the 2014 year-end floods in the east coast of the peninsula, which were the worst in decades, occurred even when there was no La Nina.

As such, it was possible that severe flooding could take place if a strong La Nina happens this time.

He said US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data indicated that the current El Nino phenomenon had al­­ready peaked.

Its severity this time was almost the same as in the 1997-1998 period when the previous extreme El Nino episode took place.

Dr Azizan said some parts in the peninsula’s east coast were flood prone due to improper drainage despite being very developed.

“Also, more rainfall does not necessarily mean bigger floods as it depends on where the rain falls. If much of the rain falls over the sea, it may not cause floods,” he said.

Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail, when contacted, said the department was closely monitoring the data but has not reached a conclusion yet.

She said there have been instan­ces when El Nino or La Nina did not materialise despite 70% predictions that they would happen.

“We feel it is still too early to conclude that La Nina will take place,” she added.

Memories of dry period come flooding back for settler
The Star 17 Apr 16;

KOTA TINGGI: The current water woes in the district have caused memories of a similar dry period some 30 years ago to come flooding back for Felda settler Ismail Abd Rahman.

The 75-year-old said when he first moved to Felda Lok Heng Timur in the early 1980s, water was scarce and temper among the settlers reached a boiling point.

“The area just opened up then and there was hardly enough water for the settlers and we usually had to fight for it.

“It came to a point where settlers would lock their pipes to make sure that no one stole their water,” he said.

Ismail said this time around, taps in the Felda scheme had been dry for more than a week and people even stored their water in plastic barrels placed in front of their houses.

“I have to guard the barrels to make sure no one steals them. I cannot afford to lose the barrels of clean water as my family needs it,” he added.

But he was puzzled why only Felda Lok Heng Timur and Lok Heng Barat were affected when Felda Lok Heng Selatan did not have water problem.

Sundry shop owner Hairusabri Samsuri, 46, said that people had been buying cartons of mineral water bottles ever since the area was hit by the problem.

“In just a couple of days, I had doubled the sale of 1.5-litre mineral water bottles.

“The villagers are not buying the bottled water just for drinking. Some even use it for bathing,” he added.

He said Syarikat Air Johor had given them a schedule where every two days, the company’s tankers would come and provide water to the settlers.

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