October 18, 2016

Cases of Water Pollution highlight Lack of effective Law Enforcement

Cases of Water Pollution highlight Lack of effective Law Enforcement

Factories pump plenty of toxic effluents into some of Malaysia's rivers. Photo Credit: Emaze

The water of Sungai Semantan in Pahang recently became so badly polluted that two local water treatment plants had to be shut down, leaving locals without clean water. That’s a fact. What remains to be determined is who is responsible. The likely culprits: three factories that may have been dumping toxic wastes into the river.

Over in the Klang Valley, many residents likewise had to go without fresh water after treatment plants were closed down as a result of foul smells that had begun emanating from local water sources. There, too, the likely culprits were local factories.

Malaysians are rightfully angered over official negligence that has allowed such states of affairs to endure. Many of the country’s rivers are notoriously polluted: several of them, including some on the island of Penang, have turned into little more than open sewers.

Wanton pollution in urban areas is one of the causes for this sad state of affairs. Another is soil erosion from developments and farming, which has resulted in many rivers silting up. An obvious solution would be to extend buffer zones further inland on the banks of vulnerable rivers so that the added areas could serve as filters for all the mud and debris that washes down from riverside developments and farms.

An illegal factory that caused widespread water pollution operates right on the bank of Sungai Semenyih in Selangor. Photo Credit: Star Online

An illegal factory that caused widespread water pollution operates right on the bank of Sungai Semenyih in Selangor. Photo Credit: Star Online

Yet rather than working on that, officials have instead turned a blind eye to ever further encroachments on river banks. Even factories have been allowed to operate right on river banks, thereby making it certain that plenty of untreated waste and other effluents are pumped directly into rivers (or at least allowed to leach into them). Such industrial encroachments pose clear and present dangers to nearby rivers and to the health of people and animals who depend on the water of rivers for sustenance.

The Environmental Quality Act of 1974 prescribes a fine of up to RM100,000 and/or a jail term of up to five years for those found to have been willfully or negligently polluting rivers. Yet culprits have to date rarely been taken to account. And even those that have been taken to account have been left off with mere slaps on the wrist: a fine and a warning, invariably.

“If you notice, action will only be taken once the pollution causes a shutdown and only the main culprits are fined,” Malaysian Water Forum research and policy executive Nah Kok Wai told the Star Online newspaper. “However, there are also others involved on a smaller scale, who had contributed to the shutdown, but they get away scot-free.” He added: “[T]he laws are actually good but sadly the enforcement is poor. Why wait for something to happen and only then take action?”

And so it goes: Laws remain unenforced to the detriment of Malaysia’s environment. Unless polluters are brought to justice, river pollution is sadly here to stay.

Leave a Reply