Natural resource management key to sustainability

This article has been published in the New Straits Times on 9 November 2020.

In our pursuit to achieve sustainable development, we must recognise the consequences of our actions towards the environment. We must realise the impacts they have on the natural surroundings and understand the tolerable threshold limit of our resources.

There is no standard “one-formula-fits-all” template for any country or community. Ideally, all three pillars or components — the environment, the economy and the social wellbeing — must be balanced to ensure sustainability.

Clean water is a basic necessity for every human being. Access to it is the right of all humans. Therefore, a responsible government must ensure that this basic need is managed carefully for its population.

Freshwater is a key natural resource — aplenty in a tropical country where rivers and lakes are the primary sources with a consistent cycle of precipitation that ensures a consistent supply of water.

It is bizarre for any population anywhere in Malaysia to face frequent water cuts or short supply of water. Hence the recurring water cut issue faced by Selangor and Klang Valley residents is a serious matter that needs to be solved.

Meanwhile, river pollution is a critical problem, particularly for Selangor, the most developed state in the country. River pollution had resulted in the shutdown of water treatment plants. This does not reflect well for the state.

We know that the recent cases of water cuts were the result of irresponsible people dumping pollutants into rivers. The authorities have since taken actions to identify and prosecute them. However, if the root cause is left unaddressed, the possibility of recurrence is high.

The key consideration should include the relocation of polluting industries, activities and facilities away from river areas. These should not be allowed to operate along rivers, particularly in the upstream section, as well as water intake, watershed and water catchment areas.

Rivers naturally meander, carving their ways from higher altitude flowing through a distance, carrying water, minerals, nutrients and silts to fertilise and irrigate adjacent habitats and ecosystems before being flushed into the ocean.

Rivers require buffer areas to allow for natural physical processes to take place, such as the formation of an oxbow lake, natural maintenance of river banks, as well as to preserve the underground hydrology with the adjacent systems.

Human activities along rivers cause tremendous changes and impact an entire riverine system. Adding effluents and pollutants, including runoffs, to the rivers increases the load and puts more pressures for them to mediate the disturbances.

These activities affect the water’s quality, as well as the health of the river and other ecosystems, including riparian habitats in the midstream section, as well as nipah forests, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs and the ocean in the downstream part of the system.

These should be easily controlled and managed by the land authorities through a proper land management system and land-use planning, as well as strict enforcement.

A comprehensive measure and integrated approach must be applied now not only to ensure sustainable management of resources, particularly water in Selangor but also on other aspects of the environment and natural resources throughout the country.