by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / pic by BERNAMA
WATER woes in some of the country’s most populated urban areas continued to exacerbate over the weekend.
Another pollution incident at a critical waterway in Selangor left over a million consumers in the nation’s richest state and Kuala Lumpur with no water.
The latest episode sparked concerns and renewed debates on industrial activities near local water catchment areas, tougher laws for callous and repeat offenders, and vulnerabilities in the water supply network that could threaten national security.
Many local eateries, already impaired by the Covid-19 pandemic, were forced to temporarily close where an additional amount of clean water is needed to meet new health guidelines on food preparation and regular cleaning of the premises.
Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said while some restaurants were forced to shutter, others had to limit their business hours.
“I am deeply disappointed with what has happened as our incomes have been severely affected this year. With Covid-19 at large, many of us have been forced to spend more to make sure our premises are always clean. We are using more water now to clean our utensils and restaurants more frequently.
“For example, we mop the floors five to six times a day, from three times previously. With no water, how are we supposed to operate?” Jawahar told The Malaysian Reserve. Presma has about 52 member restaurants in the Klang Valley.
Thousands made a beeline for the tankers deployed in selected areas since last Thursday, ferrying home heavy buckets, pots and bottles filled to the brim with water.
Supply outages are common in Selangor and have been a persistent problem in the state for decades.
Data from the Malaysia Water Industry Guide 2017 showed Selangor registering the highest number of water supply-related complaints in the country, accounting for nearly half of the 161,857 cases recorded in 2016.
Selangor experienced 80,125 unscheduled water cuts for the year, compared to Penang with 5,908 cases and Johor (4,934). In 2015, the tally in Selangor was higher at 81,969 cases.
This is the fourth case attributed to some form of pollution at Sungai Selangor this year. Two incidents linked to oil contaminations were reported in March and another involving the disposal of foul fish water into the river was recorded in April.
The current pollution was caused by the dumping of an odious solvent by a heavy machinery maintenance factory into Sungai Gong, which flows into a tributary of Sungai Selangor. The pollution forced the closure of four water treatment plants that draw water from the river.
Kajang state assemblyman Hee Loy Sian identified the company responsible as Yip Chee Seng & Sons Sdn Bhd located in Rawang, Selangor.
The company is a repeat offender, previously fined RM60,000 in March by the Department of Environment for a similar offence. The authorities had then resorted to issuing a compound and a stopwork order as there was not enough evidence to warrant harsher punishment. The company resumed operations in June after the Movement Control Order was partially lifted.
For its latest misdeed, the company will receive an eviction notice from the district land office, forcing it to clear the land and demolish the factory building within the next three to four months. Its water and power supply will also be cut to stop the company from operating.
The police have since arrested four men, aged between 50 and 60, to assist investigations into the incident. The brothers and owners of the service yard have been remanded for six days from Sept 5, while the case is being probed under Section 430 of the Penal Code.
The National Water Services Commission (SPAN) is also working on an investigation paper, which will be handed to a deputy public prosecutor in a week.
The perpetrators are expected to be charged under Section 121 of the Water Services Industry Act (WSIA) 2006, which carries a fine of RM500,000 or a maximum jail term of three years or whipping or all three, if convicted.
Despite the tough actions taken, many remain unsatisfied and are demanding that resolute actions be put in place to solve the pollution problem once and for all.
Lawmakers have pledged to beef up environmental laws to tackle the problem.
Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari said the state will be looking to double the fine for water pollution to RM1 million from the current RM500,000 under the Selangor Water Management Authority Enactment 1999.
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said WSIA 2006 and the Environment Quality Act 1974 should also be amended to mete out heavier penalties on polluters.
“Water is a matter of national security. Will be brought to Cabinet,” he tweeted.
Environment and Water Minister Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man has vowed to amend the laws and said the perpetrators will be prosecuted this week.
Klang MP Charles Santiago, who is also former SPAN chairman, has urged the government to set up a National River Protection Authority with immediate effect. He said the outfit must then create buffers of 300m to 400m along rivers, where business activities are prohibited.
He added that the police and other enforcement authorities could be used to supervise the buffer zones with the help of CCTVs and sensors to prevent encroachments.
Meanwhile, Bernama reported that water supply to 47.83% or 618 areas out of the 1,292 sites hit by the unscheduled water supply disruption in seven regions in the Klang Valley has been fully restored as at 12.30pm yesterday afternoon.
Air Selangor Sdn Bhd corporate communications head Elina Baseri said in a statement that restoration for the remaining 674 areas is still in the process.
She said Hulu Selangor recorded the highest water supply resumption so far at 94.1%, followed by Kuala Selangor (93.5%), Petaling (57.2%), Kuala Langat (50%), Kuala Lumpur (41.3%), Klang and Shah Alam (24.2%) and Gombak (11.3%).
“Air Selangor hopes consumers who have received water supply will use it prudently to ensure the restoration process for the affected areas runs smoothly and according to schedule,” she said and hoped the public would cooperate with the agency’s staff.
Air Selangor will also update the latest status of water supply from time to time through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the agency’s website.