Malaysia: Lack of awareness to blame, too, for water pollution

AHMAD FAIRUZ OTHMAN New Straits Times 4 Aug 16;

The Johor government will continue to pursue legal action against those responsible for the ammonia pollution that led to the temporary closure of three water treatment plants and caused water supply disruption in several areas a week after Hari Raya.

To date, two factories — a palm oil mill and a fertiliser processing factory — have been investigated for their links to the case. Both facilities were issued notices by the Department of Environment (DoE) to temporarily suspend operations and put in mitigation measures.

However, the 60-day suspension notice on the palm oil factory, owned by a government-linked company, was lifted two weeks after the facility complied with the DoE’s orders to take remedial measures to contain the overflow of treated palm oil mill effluents. The suspension notice on the fertiliser factory still stands.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said following the investigation papers opened by the DoE against the factories, the companies will have to wait for the legal process to take its due course. Johor cannot afford cases of pollution to affect its precious water catchment areas.

The state is still reeling from the large-scale water supply disruption that occurred in several districts last year due to the low water levels in two dams as a result of the hot and dry weather.

The recent disruption affected 600,000 people in Johor Baru, Iskandar Puteri and parts of Kulai.

Having another water crisis in Johor will not augur well for its residents. The sudden disruption that occurred during the month-long celebrations of Hari Raya was too much for them. Many vented their anger on water utility SAJ Holding’s Facebook page.

The state government is taking note of the unhappiness, and is not letting up on its intention to take legal action against culprit or culprits that caused the pollution.

There is also an urgent need to ensure that all levels of society, be they administrators, business owners and residents, work together to protect water catchment areas.

Ayub put it more bluntly when he spoke to this reporter as he lamented the lack of awareness among the people, including businesses and factory owners about the need to monitor the effluents that are released into rivers.

“There is a lack of awareness and knowledge among the people, including certain manufacturers who have blatant disregard in
managing waste.

“There is no urgency in their attitude. In addition to cases of pollution, certain sections of the community continue to throw rubbish into rivers.

“We cannot solely lay the blame on enforcement authorities. We complain when there is no water supply, but we must understand that it could be our own actions that may have contributed to the pollution that leads to water disruption,” Ayub told the New Straits Times.

The state government must look into the case of ammonia pollution with a fine-tooth comb while also looking into all aspects that may have contributed to it.

Some of the areas that were affected by the recent ammonia pollution have been known to have a moderate level of pollution.

Ayub also said the fact that the area had not seen rain for about a week might have made it worse when there was an overflow of effluents from the factories.

It is time for the state government and the DoE to monitor this issues around the clock or at least during dry weather conditions as the risk of such situations affecting water supply becomes greater.

This will complement the move announced last year by the Johor Water Regulatory Body or Bakaj to fence up the state’s water catchment areas in a bid to control any form of encroachment into these vital areas that contribute to Johor’s water supply.

The enforcement on the part of local authorities will also go a long way in protecting Johor’s water resources
Already, there has been a directive to four local authorities — Kota Tinggi District Council, Kulai Municipal Council, Kluang Municipal Council and Simpang Renggam District Council — to register all factories in the Sungai Johor river basin to help in the enforcement effort.

This was decided at a meeting that involved the representatives from 35 factories along the river in Kota Iskandar recently.

It must be noted that about 65 per cent of the state’s water supply is sourced from Sungai Johor. Seven dams draw raw water from the river and its tributaries.

Hopefully, these efforts will bear fruit and ensure that Johor receives continuous water supply for decades to come.

Ahmad Fairuz Othman is NST Johor bureau chief. When not working, he loves driving along the coastal highway and trunk roads of Johor. A lover of food, music and theatre, he recommends everyone to try Johor’s version of 'ais kacang' which is drenched in chocolate sauce

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