Water woes and unchecked environmental crimes

File picture of Puchong Jaya residents standing in line to collect water during a recent unscheduled water disruption caused by odour pollution in Selangor.

SELANGOR’S water cuts are relentlessly disrupting life under the “new norm”, underscoring the fact that lurking beneath the Covid-19 pandemic is the encroaching danger of an environmental crisis.

Water, one of mankind’s most basic needs, has not been a guarantee in one of the most developed regions in Malaysia, a country abundant in natural resources.

“The river polluters should notify us about water cuts instead” and “Raya takes place only once a year but water cuts take place every month” are some of the sarcastic comments flooding social media.

The true impact of environmental crime is now inescapable, with previous incidents such as the perennial haze problem and the Sungai Kim Kim and Pasir Gudang pollution coming to mind.

Calls have been growing for environmental issues to be taken seriously, and such sentiments were reflected in the past few federal Budgets.

While previous Budgets had largely focused on managing water resources with some mention of green technology, in recent years, the narrative has shifted to explicitly addressing pressing environmental matters.

There is also a growing sense in which environmental sustainability is not solely the duty of the government.

In his recent Budget 2021 speech, Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz said that the government is partnering with government-linked companies (GLCs) and civil society to go green.

Some RM20mil will be channelled to NGOs for environmental conservation initiatives, which is to be matched by contributions from GLC-owned foundations.

More interestingly, the government has also introduced the first ever Sustainability Bond in Malaysia, to help finance projects that are intended to bring clear environmental benefits to society.

Incentives will also be given to members of the public to encourage them to be more eco-friendly, such as a RM200 e-Rebate when households purchase any energy-efficient, locally manufactured air-conditioner or refrigerator.

Taking it up a notch from the previous Budget, the government is cooperating with the United Nations to align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by setting up a trust fund with an initial allocation of RM20mil.

Groups such as Sahabat Alam Malaysia and the Consumer Association of Penang have largely commended Budget 2021. However, they said there were no plans in it to prepare the country for climate change.

And while on paper Malaysia is making strides to finally give the environmental crisis its due attention, the outlined policies will go to waste if they are not coupled with proper enforcement.

In Budget 2021, RM50mil will be provided to address tackle trapped-in rivers, while a further RM40mil will be allocated over five years to strengthen enforcement activities, which includes setting up 30 monitoring stations.

Yet barely a week after the Budget was tabled, the Klang Valley is once again in the throes of another round of water cuts.

Malaysia is one of 12 megadiverse countries in the world, and Tengku Zafrul was right in pointing out we should strike a “balance between development and environment preservation”.

But the question remains: are the Budget and tougher environmental laws enough to convince Malaysians to protect the environment – before it is too late?

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