WATER shortages, dams drying up, devastating floods, river pollution — more and more water-related issues are making the headlines in Malaysia these days but it is just the tip of the iceberg.
WWF-Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said these issues were serious and needed to be addressed urgently as continued degradation of rivers and their surrounding catchment areas increased the risks of water crises.
“The health of our rivers and water resources are closely linked to how we manage and use the land within our watersheds or catchment areas.
“Therefore, cooperation among all parties that plan, manage and use our natural resources is vital,” he said.
Dr Dionysius said it was time to implement Malaysia’s aspiration for an integrated approach to water resources and river basin management as highlighted since the 9th Malaysia Plan (2006-2010), and form a key part to our National Water Resources Policy mooted in 2012.
“Strategic action plans outlined in the policy should be translated into action now.
“The government’s commitment and actions remain a key and ultimate driver in this as land use and resource planning are governed largely by government agencies.”
Other stakeholders’ involvement is equally vital to complement the government’s efforts and it is heartening to see some success stories in Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak where partnerships and collaborative efforts have helped to achieve the goal of water security and healthy rivers, he added.
In Setiu Wetlands, Terengganu, the state government has established several committees involving various stakeholders to mobilise the process towards the state park gazettement.
As a recognised partner, WWF-Malaysia works with these stakeholders in providing information and recommendations particularly on integrated management approach for the wetlands and its watershed.
In April 2016, WWF-Malaysia jointly held a scientific expedition with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Terengganu Forestry Department and Terengganu National Parks and Wildlife Department, and participated by several local universities and NGOs.
The expedition generated vital findings that could provide justification and guidance for informed decision to support integrated management of the Setiu Wetlands including on the state park gazettement.
Similarly in Sarawak, WWF-Malaysia is complementing the state government’s efforts in implementing integrated watershed management in Baleh, Kapit Division.
In November 2015, the Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) led a joint scientific expedition in Baleh with the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Protection of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, WWF-Malaysia and Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) to collect biodiversity and ecosystems baseline, and water quality data for Ulu Baleh.
Data gathered will support the proposed Baleh National Park gazettement and subsequently develop a watershed management plan.
A series of follow-up workshops are being planned with stakeholders to create common understanding on the need for an integrated approach and collaborative efforts for watershed management in Baleh.
In Sabah, WWF-Malaysia advocates action that contributes to reducing impact and supporting better management of rivers and river basins.
It has initiated several programmes such as the WaterVoice that allows communities to share their thoughts on rivers and through photographs they have taken, WaterQuest where participants learn about water conservation through games; and RiverRangers where local communities are taught to conduct river monitoring activities.
As a result, the communities and civil societies in Ranau, on the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, are now actively working towards gazetting a water catchment in their area.
In conjunction with the World Rivers Day on Sept 25, WWF-Malaysia calls on the government to implement the Strategic Plans of the National Water Resources Policy as the way forward to address water woes; and all parties to be involved in conserving our rivers.