Malaysia: Catchment areas needed to solve Johor’s looming water crisis

Liew Chin Tong Letter to Malaysia Kini 30 Aug 16;

No one can deny that there is a looming water crisis in Johor.

Residents in Kluang have been facing water rationing since Aug 16, while Mersing has been facing rationing since four-and-a-half months ago. Since last week, some parts of Mersing receive water from trucks and no longer from the pipe.

The question is what can we do about it? And whether the Johor state government has the political will to rein in illegal farming and plantation around dams and water facilities to secure and expand water catchment areas.

The main challenge is most dams in Johor are surrounded by palm oil estates. I visited Lebam and Upper Layang Dams with senior Syarikat Air Johor (SAJ) officers in November 2015 and Congok Dam a week ago, and witnessed the situation first hand.

Sembrong Dam, which caters for the need of Kluang, is also surrounded by farms, animals and palm oil estates. We have even seen a horse bathing in the Sembrong dam.

A dam without a catchment area means that it is a glorified open water tank which is filled only with rainwater and nothing else. If there is no rain or if rain doesn’t fall into the dam, there would be no water for consumption. Such is the sad state of affairs in Johor.

I would like to draw the attention of the Johor state government and Menteri Besar Khaled Nordin to a paper by Jackson Ewing and Karissa Domondon, entitled ‘Drought, Pollution and Johor’s Growing Water Needs’, published by Institute of Southeast Asia Studies on Aug 26, 2016.

I usually do not like to compare Singapore with Malaysia. But in this instance, it is just too glaring to compare water management in Singapore and Johor for the past few decades.

Three salient points to note:

Treated wastewater (NEWater) accounts for 30 percent of Singapore’s total freshwater needs and desalinated water 10 percent;

Singapore’s water catchment area has increased to two-thirds of the country’s land surface (from 11 percent in 1970);

Roughly 40 percent of Singapore’s water needs are met by water from Malaysia, compared to 80 percent at the time of Singapore’s independence in 1965.

I urge Khaled to come up with a plan with a detailed time frame to remove all the palm oil estates around dams and to create as well as expand water catchment areas to ensure long-term sustainability of the provision of water supply for the people of Johor.

LIEW CHIN TONG is the MP for Kluang and Johor DAP chairperson.

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