Protect water sources, by Datuk Indrani Thuraisingham

Providing an adequate drinking water supply is one of the most critical problems today. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the main reasons for this problem is the lack of integration at the watershed scale between the organisations responsible for the management of water and forest resources.

Malaysia is home to the one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world. About 20,456,000ha or 62.3 per cent of Malaysia is forested, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Extensive and unplanned logging activity has been a long existing problem in Malaysia. According to WWF, in 1985, Borneo had 73.7 per cent forest cover and this was reduced to 50.4 per cent by the year 2005. It is predicted this will be reduced to only 30 per cent by the year 2020.

As the president of the Malaysian Water Forum, I would like to reiterate the importance of having an integrated water resource management plan to preserve access to clean and safe drinking water for the current and future generations.

We have been waiting a long time for a National Water Resource Policy and a National Water Policy. It was reported in April last year that Malaysia will have its National Water Resources Policy following the completion of the National Water Resource Study scheduled to be completed in this year.

Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), which covers the holistic management of both water resources and land usage, must be practised to ensure the continuity of safe and clean drinking water. Studies show that well-managed natural forests provide benefits to populations in terms of high quality drinking water with less sediment and pollutants than water from other catchments. More attention and political will is needed to ensure that the rural populations living in watersheds are not disadvantaged in the process of protection or management for water quality.

All water catchments area in the country must be “gazetted” and free from any development to ensure the quality of the water. A list comprising the location of the water catchments area must be made available to the public in order to increase public awareness and also awareness among developers and local governments. Programmes to instill the ownership of the catchments must be enhanced. Under the forestry regulations, all such catchments must be treated as protected areas.

With increased pollution, indiscriminate land use and growing population, the water service industry is finding it increasingly challenging to supply clean and safe water at cheap rates. Aging distribution infrastructure, increasing cost of chemicals used for treatment and poor governance has resulted in the water sector owing the Federal government approximately RM8billion in 2003 prior to the water sector re-structuring.

Consumers have a right to safe water but also need to be reminded that they, too, have social and environmental responsibilities. They also have the responsibility to act against indiscriminate treatment of the environment and act according to principles of sustainable development. Therefore in conjunction with World Environment Day (June 5), I would like to urge all consumers to support efforts towards, and demand better treatment for, natural water resources, especially forests and wetlands, and preservation and rehabilitation of forests.

Datuk Indrani Thuraisingham is president of the Malaysian Water Forum. This article originally appeared in The Star and has been reprinted with permission.

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