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Clean river initiatives are not enough.

Set-Up the National River Protection Authority as part of National Security Now!

We haven’t forgotten the hardship or emotional anguish brought about by the recent water cuts due to pollution of our rivers.

And so, while I welcome the Federal and Selangor government’s initiative to increase fines and involve the public in cleaning up polluted rivers on World Rivers Day, this isn’t enough.

We need to think beyond the “Friends of River” campaign because our rivers continue to be polluted despite “clean river” initiatives over one and a half decades now.

Today, the river is treated as a rubbish dump-site by industries and local communities. The variety of river pollution include: plastic waste, surgical face masks, e-waste, chemical, heavy metals and industrial waste, pharmaceutical waste, sewerage, effluents from life stock farms.

River pollution is threatening our very existence. Rivers provide our drinking water and water for agriculture and industries. It provides habitat for a variety of animal and plant species, including fish.

In 2016, two hundred tonnes of rubbish or municipal solid waste was dumped into rivers, drains, and waterways in the country on a monthly basis.

The 2017, Malaysian Environmental Quality Report suggests that the percentage of polluted rivers has increased and none of the monitored rivers have been categorised as clean.

The growing instances of river pollution have impacted on water supply in states such as Selangor, Johor and Penang.

Water treatment plants have been forced to shut down due to river pollution resulting in huge losses in economic activity and social inconvenience to say the least.

Rivers are under threat and need urgent protection. An increase in fines are necessary but not sufficient.

It’s time the government considers setting-up a National River Protection Authority (NRPA), as a single authority in managing and coordinating river protection.

The agency could, as a first step, bring together the numerous federal agencies involved in river management under one roof as opposed to working in silo.

And the NRPA could provide a platform for improved coordination between federal and state agencies for river management as they remain fragmented.

At the heart of the NRPA, is the creation of a buffer between both sides of the river and together with the river are classified as security zones monitored by enforcement agencies on a twenty-four seven basis.

The aim of creating such a security space is to ensure that there is absolutely no encroachment into the river.  

And the continued callous approach to river pollution management in the country puts us in serious trouble” – Charles Santiago

The proposed agency could also work with the private sector to establish policies such as the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme that holds manufacturers accountable for the end-of-life impacts of their plastic products and packaging. This will indirectly encourage the adoption of holistic eco-designs among the business sector and reduce plastic pollution in rivers.

While Malaysians take part in the federal and state government’s clean river initiative, they need to be made aware that our rivers have rapidly deteriorated over the years.

It’s time to look at the pollution of our rivers as a national security issue.

And what better day to start other than on the World Rivers Day?

Charles Santiago
Member of Parliament

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