THIS year’s theme for World Water Day, “Nature for Water”, explores nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.
The central message is that nature-based solutions such as planting trees to replenish forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains and restoring wetlands are sustainable and cost-effective ways to help rebalance the water cycle, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve human health and livelihoods.
The Eleventh Malaysia Plan recognises forests as the nation’s natural capital due to the ecosystem services they provide. This can be exemplified by the importance of the forest reserves in Ulu Muda, Kedah which are vital sources of water for Kedah, Penang and Perlis, supplying 96%, 80% and 70% of the daily water needs in the respective states.
In conjunction with World Water Day, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is calling on the Malaysian Government to protect critical water resources in this country to ensure water security. This requires classification of permanent reserved forests for protection purposes, proper management of wetlands and intensifying efforts to harvest rainwater.
A permanent reserved forest (PRF), unless classified under Section 10, subsection (1) of the Forestry Act 1984, is deemed to have been classified under Section 10 (1) paragraph (a) as timber production forest under sustained yield. Failure to classify the PRF means that state governments can issue permits to take forest produce from the PRF, hence threatening its ecosystem.
The Ulu Muda Forest Reserve situation, where logging and mining activities have been approved, is reflective of the need for a uniform national policy to protect forests in Malaysia as national water catchment areas.
Rivers are the main source of raw water in this country. In Peninsular Malaysia, the major rivers flow from the Main Range, which forms the backbone of the peninsula. The major rivers that flow towards the Straits of Malacca include Sungai Muda, Sungai Perak, Sungai Bernam and Sungai Linggi. Sungai Pahang, Sungai Rompin and Sungai Kelantan flow towards the South China Sea. The sources of all these rivers are inevitably enveloped in tropical rainforests that catch water for the rivers.
Under the Federal Constitution, the governance and protection of the rivers as raw water resources come under the jurisdiction of state governments. Classification of forests as soil protection forest, flood control forest, and water catchment forest is crucial to protect water resources.
However, when it comes to the governance and protection of forests that catch water for the rivers, very few states have passed state enactments. In Penang, a total of 62.9km2 of forests have now been gazetted and protected as water catchment areas. Other states appear to be reluctant to pass similar laws, possibly due to potential losses in revenue from premiums and royalties from logs and other forest products.
The sixth Sustainable Development Goal commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes targets on protecting the natural environment and reducing pollution. Hence, Malaysia’s rainforests must be protected as national raw water catchment areas to ensure sustainable water supply for the people. We strongly urge that the power of protecting critical water catchment areas be brought under Federal legislative powers. This is because if the rainforests are destroyed, the rivers will eventually run dry, causing a national water supply crisis that would affect millions of people and disrupt economic activities.
Rain water, an accessible and sustainable water resource, is an important component in attaining water security. In this context, protecting the forests, rivers and wetlands which are natural water catchments should be regarded as a matter of national interest.
S.M. MOHAMED IDRIS
Sahabat Alam Malaysia