SUNGAI Bunus in Kuala Lumpur flows past Kampung Baru, Jalan Semarak, and parts of Setapak.
This tributary of Sungai Kelang is notorious for being one of the most polluted rivers in the city.
The river is categorised as Class IV-V. Class I is pristine and suitable for drinking while Class IV and V are very polluted and not suitable for bodily contact or recreation purposes.
The main culprits contributing to the pollution of Sungai Bunus according to studies done by the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) are those who live and work near the area.
They include the local communities, operators of food outlets, workshops, wet and night markets, as well as street hawkers, institutions, industries, corporations and developers who discharge waste into the river.
According to a DID study, about 500 tonnes of waste is disposed of daily in the Bunus basin alone.
DID river basin and coastal zone management director Datuk Lim Chow Hock said the discharge of untreated domestic and industrial effluents had severely affected the quality of rivers in the Klang Valley.
The Sungai Bunus basin (see map) is located within the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) administrative area.
“The main pollutants of Sungai Bunus comprise mainly waste water discharged from food outlets, oil and grease from workshops, as well as residential sewage, sullage and rubbish,” Lim said.
“The river has become like a ‘drain’ to most people. In fact, out of 1,059 people surveyed living in the Bunus River basin, 52% said they were not aware that the drain behind their houses was a river, Sungai Bunus, and of those who were aware, 57% felt the river was very dirty,’’ he said.
Last month, Federal Territories Ministry secretary-general Datuk Adnan Md Ikhsan revealed that rivers alone contributed 10% of the total amount of garbage collected by City Hall every year.
Adnan said 25,000 tonnes of garbage were collected in the Klang River basin each year and that millions were being spent on clean-up efforts.
The Sungai Bunus catchment area is about 17.5sq km in terms of total size, with the main river stretching 9.2km beginning from Wangsa Maju (TAR University College) and ending in Sungai Kelang next to Jalan Munsyi Abdullah (opposite Pikom ICT Mall).
Areas located within the catchment include Wangsa Maju, Setapak, Jalan Genting Kelang, KL Festival Mall, Pulapol, UTM Kuala Lumpur Campus, Kampung Ayer Panas, Jalan Tun Razak, Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, Kampung Baru, Chow Kit, Dang Wangi and Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman.
An estimated 250,000 people live within the basin, including residents and a transient population who work, study or visit the area.
It is one of the most densely populated catchments in the Sungai Kelang basin.
A total of 6,121kg of rubbish was collected from gross pollutant traps managed by DID from November 2012 to September 2013 in the catchment area.
The average is 500kg per month with the highest of 1,550kg recorded in November 2012.
The Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley masterplan is aimed at making Kuala Lumpur one of the top 20 livable cities in the world.
It includes the River of Life project (ROL), whereby RM1bil has been allocated for the beautification of a 10.7km stretch of Sungai Kelang while another RM3bil involves a clean-up exercise of a 110km stretch of both the Klang and Gombak rivers.
The river cleaning component, Lim explained, was to improve the water quality of both rivers from the current Class III-V levels, which are not suitable for potable purposes, to Class IIB, which will be suitable for bodily contact and recreational use by the year 2020.
“We are working towards cleaning up the rivers and the ROL is progressing smoothly, including structural and non-structural measures.
“However, long-term solutions are needed to ensure that our rivers are preserved and remain sustainable,’’ he said.
Lim added that gross pollutant traps and lock booms had been placed to filter and trap floating rubbish, but these are only short-term solutions.
“We need to educate the community and change their mindset to acknowledge that the river belongs to them.
“This is going to be our biggest challenge, to realise that the river is not a rubbish bin or a drain but an asset and that it is their responsibility to take care of it,’’ he added.
As part of a plan to educate the public on preserving the rivers, DID has engaged Asia Pacific Environmental Consultant Sdn Bhd (Aspec) to reach out to the community and convince them to take ownership of their rivers.
The company is working with the Government to transform the Sungai Bunus basin into a vibrant and sustainable river through a programme called the River of Life Public Outreach Programme (ROL-POP).
ROL-POP will be carried out in phases beginning with Phase 1, involving the upper Sungai Kelang basin, proceeding to Phase 2 for the Bunus River basin (ROL-POP Phase 2) and subsequently other phases.
“To ensure that the Government’s river cleaning efforts remain sustainable, the community must be persuaded to take ownership of their rivers, and in order to do that, we have to identify the people or ‘champions’ to reach out to the community,’’ said Aspec director Dr Jamie Chong.
She explained that six key groups for the ROL-POP Phase 2 had been identified — local communities, institutions, industries, corporations and developers, food establishments, wet markets and workshops — with different programmes planned for each target group.
“The challenge is getting these champions to convince their communities and workers to love their rivers,’’ Dr Chong said, adding that they had already started implementing the programmes last month.