Tuesday, January 21

Real-time monitoring system to check on river pollution

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KOTA KINABALU: A real-time monitoring system was yesterday proposed to continually check on water quality and activities that are likely to pollute rivers in the east coast of Sabah.

The system works by issuing warnings to the relevant authorities when effluents, such as those from oil palm plantations and mills, are released into the water body, said  Global Environment Centre director Faizal Parish during the national seminar on ‘Impact Study of Palm Oil Mills, Oil Palm Plantations and other pollutants on the quality of selected rivers in Sabah’ yesterday.

He urged members of the community who are concerned about the pollution to partner with the relevant authorities. They could immediately notify the authorities when such untoward activities occur via the system.

The system will be linked to an online website or portal and could be accessed anywhere and anytime, he said.

And the best thing about the system is it allows immediate identification of the river polluting perpetrator(s).

“Anyone polluting the river will not escape,” he warned.

“There are 20 village settlements along the rivers studied (comprising of Sg Muanad, Sg Segaliud, Sg Kalumpang, Sg Pang Burong and Sg Segama). Everyone knows when the mills are releasing effluents. The website will be a web-based monitoring of mills,” he explained.

Faizal, in presenting his paper on ‘Proposed Strategies and Action Plans’, alleged that the palm oil industry is one of the main polluters of rivers in the east coast of Sabah.

His paper is based on a 27-month study initiated by the Sabah government under the Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) programme to assess the negative impact of the palm oil

industry.

“BMP (Best Management Practice) is hardly practised and the occurrence of deliberate discharge of effluent into rivers is serious,” he said when commenting on oil palm plantations and palm oil mills operating in the east coast.

He also said the oil palm plantations and mills knew they were being studied and yet continued to (heavily) discharge effluents into water bodies.

To address the matter, there is a need to improve the ‘weak’ legislation(s) that are relevant, he said.

“There is a need for the carrot and stick approach. Even though the minister (Datuk Masidi Manjun) has asked for the industry to regulate itself, we feel that it is necessary to enhance and improve on the legal requirement and development planning for the oil palm plantations,” he said.

On palm oil mills, he said that the important step is for the mandatory closure for mills that flouted the laws that govern matters on environmental well-being.

“This is the only way – closure (of the mills). It is an effective means to wake people up. All companies need to take action before (their) mills are closed,” he said, adding smallholders who were still practising open burning should stop such activities as it would lead to greater losses.

Faizal also advised mills to aim for zero waste, optimize their use of water and sort out land irrigation system within their establishment.

He added that less than 10 percent of companies in the sector in the east coast of Sabah were complying with the Environment Department regulations.

He also said that almost 90 percent of places they had visited during the study had no riverine reserve.

He warned the operators/owners that the State Government has a right to take back the riverine reserve under the law.

Other sources of pollution at the selected rivers are riverine settlements and sand mining activities.

However, sand mining only occurs in the Segama river.

On the activity, Faizal said many of the sand mining operators were operating on permits issued by the Land and Survey Department.

“Many are (operating) without the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). In the future, we propose that those without an EIA will not be allowed (to operate). We proposed for the confiscation of their tools,” he said.

He added that there were 15 operators at the Segama river and the activity had untoward consequences on the water treatment system in Lahad Datu.