JOHOR BARU: Johor needs a blueprint to protect rivers in the state to ensure sustainability and prevent pollution.
Environment-based non-governmental organisation Safe Johor River founder Poh Pai Yik said financial allocation alone was not enough to protect the rivers that were the main source of raw water supply in the state.
He said what was needed was strict enforcement and continuous monitoring by the relevant agencies on the rivers’ conditions.
“The state government must have measures in place to address pollution of rivers, before major problems occur.’’
He said it was alarming that the Environment Department’s figures showed Johor had the highest number of polluted rivers in the peninsula.
A total of 16 out of the 25 dirtiest rivers are in the southernmost region of Johor.
Poh said most of the 16 rivers were categorised as dead rivers, where the water quality was unfit for swimming and even marine creatures could not survive.
He said Johor should learn from Selangor’s water pollution incidents that disrupted supply and caused hardship to the people.
He attributed river pollution in Johor to economic activities on the riverbanks such as illegal sand mining, cultivation of crops, poultry breeding and presence of illegal factories.
He said those living along the riverbanks, including squatters, also treated the rivers as a huge dumpster and simply threw their waste into the waterways.
“There are about 13 squatter settlements along Sungai Skudai and Sungai Tebrau, including foreigners living there.
“Deforestation is another major factor that is causing pollution in Johor rivers, ’’ he said.
Poh hoped strict action would be taken against those found encroaching into the buffer zones on both sides of the rivers in Johor.
He said the 50m buffer zones should be free of human activities.
He added that insufficient laws to protect water resources and lack of enforcement were the main reasons people encroached into the buffer zones and failed to comply with regulations.
Poh proposed that the state government work closely with the Johor Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) to rope in Orang Asli fishermen to monitor rivers in the state.
“Buffer zones along rivers are important to improve water quality and curb pollution, ’’ he stressed.
He said the buffer zones on both sides of the river should be left intact with vegetation such as grass or secondary forest as they would help trap silt and stop it from flowing into the waterways.
He highlighted that the vegetation also served as a filter for mud, soil and solid waste washed down from hills, development and construction sites or from agricultural and logging activities.
Under Johor Budget 2021, RM3.5mil was allocated for the state’s rivers sustainability programme, of which RM2mil was for 1District 1River (1D1S) and the rest for Sungai Skudai and Sungai Tebrau sustainability projects.