THERE have been far too many water supply disruptions in Selangor and the Klang Valley over the years but the latest one this past week was arguably the worst.
An estimated five million people in Malaysia’s most highly populated and industrialised regions had to endure life without this most vital resource for at least four days before the unscheduled disruptions caused by the sudden closure of four water treatment plants ended on Wednesday.
This time around, the authorities traced the source of pollution at Sungai Gong to a factory in Rawang which repairs heavy machinery.
But what was most bizarre was the disclosure by the Selayang Municipal Council (MPS) that this factory was one of 308 found to be operating illegally in areas under MPS jurisdiction!
Following this latest denial of water, the MPS shed light on how this most vital resource is at the mercy of polluting factories and how action taken against them was so lenient to say the least.
Its corporate department director, Mohamad Zin Masaod, was quoted as saying that this particular factory had never even applied for a licence since it started operating six years ago.
“We have issued the latest notice to them in March but they ignored it. Besides operating without a licence, we also found that the factory was built without MPS approval,” Mohamad Zin said.
If this is the actual situation on the ground with hundreds of factories in river buffer zones, then we are really allowing environmental time bombs to operate at their whims and fancies.
When it comes to polluting rivers, the issue is not so much whether these polluting factories are licensed or not because even the licensed ones could also discharge toxic effluents to our raw water sources.
What was more revealing was that the MPS could not act on such illegal factories because the Selangor government had even issued a directive that local authorities like MPS cannot demolish such plants under the “legalisation process” introduced in 2012 and extended until Dec 31.
This just goes to show that all this while, critical issues such as polluting rivers that supply water to treatment plants has been taken so lightly and that after so much hardships faced by residents hit by water supply cuts, those who are supposed to prevent such disruptions have still not got their act together.
We don’t need another board of commission inquiry to put things right where it matters most but all we need is plenty of common sense.
After all, this has been happening repeatedly.
While this one was blamed on that Rawang factory, the question now also arises why such polluting industries were allowed to operate so close to rivers in the first place?
A serious review by the authorities not only in Selangor but elsewhere across the country is certainly long overdue.
While those with the power to act for the purpose of prevention have not only been closing one but both eyes on water polluters, in this latest episode of water supply disruption, four brothers who run the factory were arrested and now under remand.
Meanwhile, a member of the family-owned factory has denied that water pollution that led to the closure of the treatment plants orginated from their site.
We await anxiously what’s next with the four brothers expected to be charged in court for the offence.
What is also long overdue is for harsher or more punitive and deterrent laws be put in place for those who deliberately cause toxic pollution to water supply sources.
Water is, after all, life.
And equally vital is that the maximum sentence be meted out by our courts to the offenders who operate these environmental time bombs.
Everyone – from the water industry, the ministry concerned and environmentally polluting industries – must give water the respect it deserves to put an end to the widespread disrespect it is getting all this while.
The Sungai Gong pollution is certainly not going to be the last such crisis in Selangor even after the state government had decided to demolish the factory after giving such polluters only a tap on the wrist previously.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Ahmad Shah wants the Department of Environment (DOE) to enhance its monitoring and enforcement to prevent such frequent recurrence of river pollution.
The King conveyed this decree during an audience granted to Environment and Water Minister Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man.
Local authorities nationwide that have jurisdiction over rivers especially the ones that are sources of raw water must have a hotline with the DOE because it’s obvious that as the situations now prevails, the big E or Enforcement is either lax or ineffective or both.
Just how many more water supply disruptions must residents in Selangor and the Klang Valley have to put up with moving forward?
Other states must also learn from the lessons that quite regularly happen in Selangor.
Enough is enough. Let it be known that a water crisis is mother of all crises.