The Kedah government’s demand of RM50 million annually from Penang for drawing water from its side of Sungai Muda and threatening to divert the river in case of non-compliance portrays a lack of humane communal responsibility.
It also raises an ethical question of ownership and management of natural resources.
The management of water resources is an integral and crucial part of government institutional responsibility.
It involves the preservation of catchment areas, rivers, dams, processing to make it potable and also the network of distribution to meet the needs of the people and industries.
It is an intricate and crucial process that needs careful planning and implementation.
Currently, water resources are under the jurisdiction of the respective states that are charged with the responsibility of managing and sustaining them.
Integral to the water resources is the forest cover, which provides timber, an important natural resource that has from time immemorial been used for numerous applications to serve both functional and aesthetic human needs from firewood to building materials, sailing vessels to objects of worships and objects d’arts.
It was then a sustainable activity. But with increasing population, extraction of timber became a commercialised activity, causing demand to exceeded supply, resulting in the depletion of forests and adversely affecting catchment areas.
In addition, the clearing of forests for plantations and other agricultural activities as well as habitations has seriously damaged the flora and fauna, causing irreversible damage to the delicate ecosystem.
Trees are being cut down four times the sustainable rate. At this rate, the remaining 56 per cent of Malaysia’s pristine forests will be further depleted.
Forests are laid bare, destroying the catchment areas and causing runoffs and river pollution.
This is compounded by the discharge of effluents and toxic matters into the rivers.
We have seen river pollution in Johor and Selangor causing water cuts to a major segment of the population in the affected areas.
The situation is aggravated when states like Kedah plan to grant a licence for the mining of rare earth in catchment areas as well as the possibility of logging 25,000ha of rainforest in Ulu Muda.
While water, which is one of the most precious life-giving resources, is under state jurisdiction, it is not exclusive to the respective states. The rivers may flow through several states with each state drawing water from the part of the river within its boundaries.
Thus, several states may share water from the same river or catchment areas.
In this regard, water is considered universal ownership to be shared and used by the people.
There should be universal access to water supply. States with minimal water resources should be able to procure water at affordable tariffs.
A coordinated effort is needed to efficiently manage our natural resources to ensure sustainable development as well as the preservation of our ecosystem.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.