AMID the unprecedented global lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been numerous bright spots even as Malaysians come to grips with the crisis.
From stories of ordinary people going out of their way to help others during the crisis to poignant moments shown by frontliners, we are a resilient lot.
One silver lining since the movement control order (MCO) came into effect has been the improved condition of rivers and waterways in the Klang Valley – particularly Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang.
StarMetro reported on April 7 that Klang Valley rivers were looking healthier as there was less human interference during the MCO imposed from March 18 to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.
Global Environmental Centre river care programme manager Dr K. Kalithasan noted the current conditions of some of the rivers in Klang Valley were much better now since MCO was initiated.
Photographs of Sungai Gombak, Sungai Way and Sungai Kemunsing clearly showed the rivers’ improved conditions.
For more than 20 years, StarMetro has reported on numerous cases of rubbish dumping, legal and illegal land clearing as well as sand washing activities that have continued to pollute the rivers.
So too, have we reported on the small- and large-scale efforts to clean up these rivers, largely to little effect, in stemming pollution of rivers.
One of the biggest river cleaning and beautification projects extensively reported was the government’s multibillion ringgit River of Life project (RoL).
The RoL project is aimed at breathing new life into polluted Klang and Gombak rivers as well as transforming Kuala Lumpur city centre into a vibrant hub for its citizens. The entire project is expected to be completed this year.
However, that target was set before the MCO came into force.
There are three major components in the RM4.4bil project – river cleaning, river master planning and beautification and river development.
Of the amount, RM3.4bil is for cleaning up the rivers and RM1bil for landscaping.
But since it was initiated in 2012, the project has been plagued by inefficiency and multi-agency bureaucracy.
This lack of coordination and enforcement also meant that any headway has become a “one step forward, two steps back” situation.
For example, in April last year, StarMetro reported that land clearing upstream of Sungai Gombak has sent hundreds of tonnes of silt and sedimentation downstream, turning the river and its tributaries into brown sludge.
Although land clearing carried out on private land was the main culprit, road projects around the area as well as sand washing activities had also been blamed.
The sediment run-off travelled downstream right up to the Masjid Jamek area, which caused the water there to turn even murkier than usual.
Ironically, Masjid Jamek’s waterfront was named one of the world’s 10 best waterfront districts by British online newspaper The Independent a few months prior to the incident.
Apart from land clearing, major activities that have severely impacted the quality of these rivers are illegal sand washing and sand mining taking place along riverbanks.
Since 2015, StarMetro has highlighted several cases of sand washing activities causing pollution along Sungai Klang and its tributaries.
The exposes resulted in the government closing down several of those sites, where the perpetrators were also penalised and their equipment confiscated.
However, in many cases, the illegal activities would restart after just several months.
In October of last year, it was reported that operations at two illegal sand washing sites in Kuala Lumpur resumed just six months after it was shut down by authorities.
One is at 4th Mile, off Jalan Kelang Lama and facing Sungai Klang, while the other is near Kampung Bohol Flood Retention Pond in Bukit Jalil near Sungai Kuyoh.
Despite the constant highlights in the media on river pollution, it was only since the MCO was enforced that there has been any noticeable change in the quality of the rivers.
It was reported that there had been a 43% reduction in the total amount of rubbish extracted from Sungai Klang since March 18.
Landasan Lumayan Sdn Bhd managing director Syaiful Azmen Nordin was quoted saying that between March 15 and April 15,580 metric tonnes (MT) of rubbish was collected under the Selangor Maritime Gateway project compared to an average of 900 to 1,200MT per month over the last six months.
He added that during this time, Sungai Klang recorded Class III Water Quality Index (WQI) readings almost 90% of the time, compared to last year until March, whereby although the overall WQI stood at Class III as well, it was only for about 46% of the time.
Still, there have been some slip ups, such as the odour pollution at the raw water source in Sungai Selangor on April 16.
Fish breeding ponds were found to have caused the odour pollution which forced four water treatment plants to temporarily shut down and caused water supply disruption for thousands of households.
While minimising the movement of people and business operations can help rivers heal, it is not a feasible solution in the long term.
In the meantime, we can take heart that nature is getting a much-needed breather during this pandemic.
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