Joint effort needed to care for our rivers

IWK Friends of Rivers volunteers with the community of Section 7, Bandar Baru Bangi, Kajang. — Photos: LOW LAY PHON/The Star

At the Sri Tanjung playground in Section 7 of Bandar Baru Bangi, Kajang, there is a picnic table overlooking Sungai Air Hitam.

From this spot, one can see ducks swimming in the water.

Visitors say it is entertaining to watch these waterfowls upending and ruffling their feathers.

Another sight is birds swooping down from the sky, wings outstretched like fighter jets.

They snatch fish hovering near the water surface and rapidly ascend into the air before landing on the opposite bank to devour their prey.

But it was not always like this, said Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) planning and engineering department head Mohd Taufik Salleh during the World Rivers Day celebration at the playground.

Held simultaneously at 30 other locations, the event at Section 7 was attended by Selangor environment, green technology, science, technology and innovation and consumer affairs committee chairman Hee Loy Sian, Selangor Water Management Authority (Luas) senior assistant director Nor Zamri Sondor and Kajang Municipal Council president Datuk Zulkefli Khalid.

“In 2018, when IWK began its corporate social responsibility initiative called Friends of Rivers to adopt rivers that are nearest to their offices, the playground was in a sorry state.

“The riverbank was an unruly mess of overgrown vegetation. People were lugging their rubbish here in black plastic bags and chucking them into the overgrown bushes, ” said Mohd Taufik.

IWK Langat office business service executive Bahari Wee, who was part of the 50-strong volunteer team from the national waste water and sanitation company

taking part in the clean-up of Sungai Air Hitam’s banks, remembers having to remove rotting food waste from the undergrowth by hand.

Luckily, the company had supplied volunteers with gloves for the job.

There was no escaping the stink, however, as masks were not a prerequisite back then.

Fully a volunteer-based effort, it took three years — actual clean-up started at the end of 2017 — for the playground to achieve its current state.

During that period, some 50 volunteers from IWK came to the park every Saturday from 8am to 10am for the clean-up operation.

Inspired by the gotong-royong spirit, some 20 residents, some from the Sri Tanjung apartments and others from the surrounding community, came to help.

Together, they cleared the undergrowth and even found donors to build a 1km-long cement walkway by the banks.

On how being part of a river clean-up programme has enriched him, Bahari said the experience had given him a deep sense of self-satisfaction, not to mention a chance to de-stress from work.

“Before this, people did not seem to care if they were polluting this river. But when they saw what the volunteers were doing, they realised the consequences, ” he explained.

It makes a difference when a community takes responsibility for a river, said Mohd Taufik.

“Rivers that are under the care of a community or volunteer group are less likely to be illegal rubbish dumping grounds.

“It’s psychological. People who dump will think twice about going to a river they know is under a community’s watch, ” he said.

In his speech, Hee expressed hope for more of such volunteer groups to help the state government keep its rivers pollution-free.

“The problems faced by Selangor rivers are manifold.

“Not only is illegal dumping rife where rubbish is chucked during heavy rain, which explains why so much of it is seen at these times, but factories are throwing their chemicals and effluents through drains and manholes.

“To take care of this, Luas and Air Selangor have been conducting patrols and 24-hour monitoring to look out for pollution-causing activities, ” said Hee.

However, he also pointed out that there were over 1,000 rivers in Selangor, which when combined, stretched a total distance of 4,000km.

It is not possible for Luas and Air Selangor to monitor every inch of this distance.

“As such, parties that are responsible for monitoring crucial water sources such as Sungai Selangor and Sungai Langat must do their part.

“Local councils and the Department of Environment (DOE) must conduct regular checks at factories located nearby the river basin area to ensure they comply with standard operating procedures set out by Selangor DOE and that all effluents discharged by them are in accordance with stipulated parameters, ” said Hee.

Hee, who is also Kajang assemblyman, also took the opportunity to stress on the role played by IWK in the safety and management of the state’s rivers.

“In the Sungai Selangor basin alone, there are more than 1,000 IWK sewage treatment plants located upstream.

“They pose a risk if effluents from any of these plants were to be discharged into the river.

“So, IWK has a responsibility to handle these plants well so they do not end up polluting our river, ” he added.

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