A new project on the Sabah island will help villagers through the droughts, but permanent and long-term solutions are also needed.
3.5 KILOMETRES of 2-inch polypipes. CHECK.
200 metres of 1.5-inch polypipes. CHECK.
Multiple polysockets and connectors. CHECK.
60 packs of cement. CHECK.
100 packs of gravel. CHECK.
100 packs of sand. CHECK.
800-gallon water tank. CHECK.
20 1.5-inch polypipes. CHECK.
250 hollow bricks. CHECK.
Welded wire mesh. CHECK
With these materials and sweat, muscle and know-how, five villages in Banggi, Malaysia’s largest island that is the size of Singapore, will get a gravity-fed water system.
This means villagers from Kampung Palak Darat and four nearby villages who are mostly Dusun Bonggi subsistence farmers earning about RM200 to RM500 a year will not have to walk about three kilometres to get a pail of water.
During the dry season, they have to walk six kilometres to and fro every day to get water from a spring on a hill. Pulau Banggi, which is north of Sabah, was badly hit by the prolonged El Niño-induced dry spell last year.
After the completion of this gravity-fed water project on this island, water will flow to Kampung Palak Darat.
Last week, “Bomoh Air” George Charles and his team of two started site work after receiving the materials by boat from mainland Sabah. Transporting them by boats and lorries is expensive. The first delivery of 20 rolls of polypipes cost about RM2,000.
Charles, who is helping Sabah radio station kupikupifm in the Banggi gravity-fed water project, is also assisted by six Kampung Palak Darat villagers.
The team managed to clear a path to the catchment site – a spring that has never been dry for decades, even during the island’s worst drought. Exactly one year ago, I hiked to the hill and was amazed to see a trickle from the ground could supply water to hundreds of villagers.
The Bomoh Air’s team is repairing the catchment walls – expanding them on both sides and reinforcing it with metal piles. The ground will be filled with rocks to reduce the risk of erosion during heavy rain.
Once done, about 200 metres away, the team will build a concrete mini-reservoir capable of stocking up 10,000 litres of water. It will take two weeks to complete the reservoir, with help from the villagers on a gotong-royong basis.
Charles is called Bomoh Air because he has the ability to set up an efficient and cost-saving gravity-fed water system. The nickname was given to the 43-year-old Sabahan by his R8 Cares members.
(R8 were his batchmates at the Royal Military College Kuala Lumpur, class of 1987 to 1991. R stands for royal and 8th denotes the 8th intake of first formers into RMC.)
He got the nickname when R8 helped to rebuild 45 gravity water systems that were damaged by the Ranau earthquake in 2015. Most of the tweaked designs were based on his experience working in his previous job on board yachts with technicians and engineers in Europe.
Charles is proud, satisfied and happy that he has helped to bring water to places that do not have access to piped water.
“Proud because I can prove to the pessimists that even with a small budget, we can build a fully functioning system. Proud because the funds entrusted to me by the sponsors are used up efficiently without having to pay a third-party contractor,” he said.
“Satisfied because we can see the smiles of relief on the villagers’ faces when they see water flowing to their houses for the first time. Happy because I feel I have done something beneficial for the community at large.”
The Bomoh Air asked villagers who have no or little access to piped water this question: “Which one would you choose? WiFi, water or electricity?”
“All of them answered water. No WiFi, no electricity, they won’t die. No water for a few days, it is a big problem for them physically and mentally,” he said.
Other than sweat, muscles and know-how, a gravity-fed water project needs funding to pay for materials and transportation.
Kupikupifm has provided initial funding to run the Banggi gravity water project. It is working with Zubedy (M) Sdn Bhd, R8 Cares and Beyond Pitas (a non-governmental organisation that has highlighted the villagers’ plight through a series of tweets using the hashtag #BanggiWaterCrisis).
The Build Something Nice Project is part of Zubedy (M) Sdn Bhd’s annual Say Something Nice campaign.
Zubedy managing director Anas Zubedy told The Star Online that the project was started last year and will continue with a different village targeted every year.
Anas plans to have one project every year to help one village get fresh water. It is part of an ongoing campaign until the problem is eventually resolved. But it is not a permanent solution.
“At the end of the day, the Federal Government and the Sabah government have to look into more permanent, long-term water systems. We are not building a dam or using a high-tech way of doing things. This is a stopgap measure so the villagers at least have water now,” he said.
Kupikupifm programme manager Lester Calvin Miol said the radio station supported the Banggi water project because it was built on the fundamental principle of “for the people, to the people”.
“We were invited by Anas to be involved and it’s in line with our previous projects related to water,” he said.
The Banggi gravity water system will cost RM60,000 and Zubedy, with its partners, will hold a donation drive until the end of the Say Something Nice Campaign on Sept 16.
Dry season is coming in Banggi island. Let’s help them.