Empower Law Enforcement to Address River Pollution
Recently, issues related to river pollution have become a grievance in the community, particularly in the Klang Valley, making it difficult for the daily activities of the people. Indeed, the problem of river pollution directly affects water usage and poses a danger to health and public safety.
It has been found that the rapid development all over the world has caused many sources of drinking water to be polluted, and it is estimated that more than 780 million individuals worldwide do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. In fact, almost 2.5 billion people on earth do not have adequate sanitation services such as clean bathrooms. As a result, more than 2,000 children worldwide die every day due to diarrhoea related to water resources and unsatisfactory hygiene levels.
Despite suffering from a series of water supply disruptions due to river pollution, Malaysians have yet to go through the pain of water disruption for a long period as endured by farmers in India, some of whom have reportedly committed suicide since 1986 due to crops and farms that fail to be cultivated in addition to bearing the burden of debt.
Similarly in Cape Town, South Africa, where the water crisis that hit the city began in 2015 has forced local governments to declare day zero for the first time in 2017. The term of “day zero” refers to the control of water supply level seven which is the water supply to the house is closed and each individual can only get a water supply of 25 litres per day provided by the local government. Such is the price that has to be paid as a result of not maintaining a good relationship with nature.
Hence, Malaysians should learn from the water crises in other countries so that we can appreciate the benefits of water and do not arbitrarily pollute our rivers to ensure the sustainability of our water supply in the future is more secure. When there are issues and problems related to water resources, there is definitely the question of whether the existing legal system is enough to preserve them.
Indeed, the existing laws in Malaysia are more than sufficient to conserve water resources. Rather the weakness is not in the law, but it is due to the lack of enforcement. Due to this, offenders who violate the law are not afraid to repeat their offenses because of the lack of firmness in the enforcement.
For example, in the case of the Kim-Kim River pollution that occurred in 2019, the offender had actually long dumped toxic waste into the river. However, the community only knew about it after the prolonged hot weather in 2019 which produced harmful gases from toxic waste in the river and caused the residents in the surrounding area to get sick.
This clearly shows the weakness in enforcement which the government needs to rectify by strengthening the enforcement agencies so that they can be more effective. In addition, there is also confusion among the community about the agency responsible for monitoring river pollution activities. To clarify this confusion, the Department of the Environment (DOE) under the Environmental Quality Act 1974 is only responsible for monitoring factories licensed to release scheduled waste.
The same Environmental Quality Act 1974 does not apply to Small and Medium Industries (SMIs) that do not release scheduled waste as it is licensed by the Local Authority. However, the number of Small and Medium Industries is increasing and will further increase industrial waste, although it is not a scheduled waste under the said Act.
Pollution in Sungai Gong is one example of pollution from a factory licensed by a local authority, which is the Selayang Municipal Council. However, we cannot expect local authorities to understand the types of industrial waste generated from Small and Medium Industries because local authorities are not chemists. Therefore, the Environmental Quality Act 1974 needs to be amended to control any industrial waste as the Department of the Environment has expertise in this regard, rather than the local authorities.
In addition, there are also illegal factories that are not licensed by the Department of the Environment or local authorities which pose the most danger. For example in Selangor, the Selangor Water Management Board and the Land and Mineral Office need to take firm action by demolishing illegal factories that contribute much pollution to rivers recently.
Given the frequent river pollutions and water supply disruptions, will it ever end? Perhaps it will only end when all parties including members of the community play their respective roles in maintaining the cleanliness of our rivers, which are the main sources of our drinking water in Malaysia. Meanwhile, the care and preservation of the environment is part of the religious demand. This is in line with Allah SWT’s injunction which means: “He has produced you from the earth and settled you in it” (Surah Hud (11): 61).
In addition, the Federal Government through the National Water Services Commission needs to immediately amend the Water Industry Services Act 2006 so that they can prosecute river pollutants which had caused the Water Treatment Plant to be suspended and disrupted the water supply. Meanwhile, state government agencies need to constantly monitor activities along the river so that pollution can be avoided.
Besides that, environmental offenders need to be prosecuted and given maximum punishment so that they do not repeat their offenses in the future. Meanwhile, the industry that releases effluent waste should be required to clean it first before releasing it to the river.
Finally, community members need to play a very important role in addressing the issue of river pollution and water supply disruption, such as market and night market traders, restaurant owners or hawkers and the general public should no longer use drains or rivers as their bins.
Indeed, clean unpolluted rivers is important to all parties. If everyone plays their respective roles, then our rivers will not die and they will remain clean and cheerful, thus becoming a safe habitat for various aquatic life.