LETTER | A growing population leads to greater pressures on the availability of water resources. Population growth brings about mounting demands and competition for water in domestic, industrial, and municipal uses.
Water is also needed for agriculture and industrial, and for the disposal of waste materials. Water is crucial for life on earth. It plays an essential role in our health, economy, food production, and environment. Safe drinking water and freshwater are imperative for development and public health.
Based on a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) statement, 160,000 hectares of the Ulu Muda forest in Kedah, which act as a water catchment area for the Muda, Pedu and Ahning dams, provide an invaluable environmental service to northern peninsular Malaysia.
Rivers originating from deep within this forest provides as much as 96 percent of Kedah’s and 80 percent of Penang’s water supply – driving the region’s growth. About four million people in the three northern states in Malaysia are dependent on Ulu Muda as a regional water catchment area.
Potential deforestation and unsustainable logging activities, both legal and illegal, threaten Ulu Muda’s role as a water catchment area by affecting the quality and volume of its water output.
The clearing of forest patches and unsustainable logging increase the run-off of soil into Ulu Muda’s lakes and rivers, making raw water supply murky and more expensive to treat.
“There has been a widespread failure to recognise water’s vital role in providing food, energy, sanitation, disaster relief, environmental sustainability and other benefits. This has left hundreds of millions of people suffering from poverty and ill health and exposed to the risks of water-related diseases,” Ban Ki-moon, former secretary-general of the United Nations (UN) said in the foreword to the UN World Water Development Report 3.
In April 2018, Malaysian Water Forum embarked on an initiative through a memorandum highlighting the need for independent research to study the impact of logging in the reserve forest of Ulu Muda by considering the economic impact towards surrounding agriculture activities, the health of the surrounding population, and flora and fauna.
On Sept 3, 2018, the Malaysian Water Forum, among others who had jointly approached respective stakeholders on the Ulu Muda issue, was thrilled when Water Resources, Land and Natural Resources Minister, Dr Xavier Jayakumar thanked the Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir for taking steps to halt logging activities at the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve.
Malaysian Water Forum strongly supports Penang Water Supply Corporation Chief Executive Officer Jaseni Maidinsa’s statement in The Star on Sept 5, 2018 that the best way to protect forest reserves is through legislation.
Malaysian Water Forum also strongly believes that an immediate holistic approach needs to be implemented to halt logging in all forest reserves and water catchment areas throughout Malaysia through a sole law in order to protect and preserve flora and fauna, and sustain forest and water catchment areas.
All this will happen only with mutual understanding and co-operation from all state governments, rather than merely politicising water issues.
Consumers or the public shall be provided with an option to report to the authorities or to share photos and videos of illegal incidents that may jeopardise the integrity of water catchment areas.
SARAL JAMES MANIAM is president of the Malaysian Water Forum.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.