ABOUT 97 per cent of our raw water supply for agriculture, domestic and industrial needs are derived from surface water resources, primarily rivers.
Malaysia receives abundant rainfall, averaging 3,000 millimetres annually, which contributes to an estimated annual water resource of some 900 billion cubic metres, most of which is distributed into the 189 river basins throughout the country.
The rivers in Malaysia deliver a multitude of benefits, from supporting important freshwater ecosystems and habitats, and providing clean water supply and food to generating economic revenues from fisheries and energy production.
All of us recognise that water is needed in all aspects of life, and adequate supply of good quality water is crucial for our well-being. Without water, development would also not be possible – it is a common factor that cuts across all sectors of development. Ensuring that this very important resource is well managed is critical – in this case, maintaining the health of rivers is necessary to continue enjoying the benefits and services they provide.
A healthy river is one where its ecological and natural processes are maintained, unpolluted, have good and intact riparian vegetation along the majority of the river’s length and are capable of supporting aquatic life as well as its other functions.
The ecological and natural processes of a river rely heavily on its natural hydrological regime or natural flows and water quality.
As our country progresses, great pressure is placed on rivers.
Many of our river systems have been subjected to changes from human interference such as water infrastructure development, aquaculture, fisheries and agriculture, resulting in disruptions to ecological and natural processes. Recognising this, WWF-Malaysia advocates integrated policies and approaches, field projects, enhancement of information database and information dissemination to improve the way freshwater ecosystems and water resources are managed to ensure continued benefits of adequate and equitable provision of water for people, nature and the economy.
Major threats to our rivers
• Unsustainable hydropower development
• River pollution
• Degradation of highland catchment areas
• Over-exploitation of fishery resources
• Introduction of exotic species into riverine environment
Importance of rivers
• To humans – food resources, means of transportation, generate hydroelectric power, irrigate agricultural land, recreation and water supply
• To nature – habitats for flora and fauna, feeding and breeding grounds for fish and other aquatic life, source of water to the world, vital for the healthy functioning of nature, transportation of sediment to river deltas
• The longest river in Malaysia, the Rajang river, 560km long is located in Sarawak. It originates from the Iran mountains and flows into the sea through the deltas of Sibu and Sarikei. It provides a multitude of services and supports important ecosystems and species diversity ranging from montane and highland freshwater ecosystems to mangroves and peatlands.
• Only 3 per cent of water on earth is freshwater and less than 1 per cent is available for human use. Sarawak’s rivers host the world’s second smallest freshwater fish (Paedocypris micromegethes).
• The Big Mouth Terubok (Tenualosa toli) is endemic to Sarawak. In 2011, 387 tonnes of fish and crustaceans worth RM2.299 million in retail value were harvested from the rivers and lakes of Sarawak.
WWF-Malaysia’s Freshwater Programme
l Advocates the application of sustainability assessment tools and approaches both at the project and basin levels to improve planning and development of dams;
• Promotes the application of more effective measures to reduce pollution sources and impacts freshwater ecosystems;
• Promotes the application of holistic land use management of critical water catchment areas and riparian corridors in accordance to relevant national, state and district plans and policies;
• Promotes the application of holistic and ecosystem based approaches and practices (such as for flood mitigation and to facilitate navigation) to minimise physical and hydrological alteration to river ecosystems;
• Promotes the application of principles and practices for sustainable agriculture and aquaculture development to minimise impact on freshwater ecosystems.
Article contributed by WWF-Malaysia, partner of the Youth Green X-Change Programme 2014, which was launched in April. A youth seminar followed by an environmental-based photography, short film, essay and feature writing competition had been completed. A final event for the year, the YGXC Camp will be held in Kuching from Dec 10-12.