TALKING STRAIGHT ABOUT THE
A lot of what happens these days cannot be taken at face value. There’s a very big gap between what you’re told and what you’re not supposed to know. Or even think about.
The rapid growth of Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley has become cancerous. Unless cured, this disease will simply consume more and more of the environment until we have to pay through our noses just for some fresh air and a bit of wilderness.
You’re told we have no choice but to dam the Selangor River. The government fears that taps may run dry in Selangor by 2003.
Malaysia is among the wettest countries in the world. Every year, in fact, the floods get alarmingly worse. And yet we are now threatened with water rationing and shortages.
For a start, major water sources have been horrendously polluted by factories and farms upstream of intake areas (the most recent case being the Cheras intake on Sungai Langat). Why was this allowed to happen? It does not take much thought to realise that one does not spit into the water one is about to drink, what more shit into it! But the authorities have done exactly that. That’s ONE reason why we’re running low on water. We have poisoned almost all our rivers, turned clear streams into sewers, polluted the lifeblood of the land - even as we continue to destroy more of our vital green lungs.
There are many more reasons. It is estimated that 38-45 percent of piped water is lost as “Non-Revenue Water.” A lot of it leaks out through 36-year-old asbestos-cement pipes full of cracks and ruptures. An unknown quantity is “siphoned off” (in other words, stolen) by factories. Too many burst pipes and faulty faucets are left unrepaired for weeks - a sure sign that we have yet to learn the value of water. Water is life. And like life, damming it up can lead to tragic consequences.
Proud car owners who wash their vehicles several times a week forget they’re squandering a vital resource. Collect rain water and use it, your cars won’t object. Private swimming pools, industrial cooling systems, lawn sprinklers for nurseries and golf courses can easily use recycled rainwater.
So much rain falling and instantly turning into flash floods means only two things: the forest canopy has been thinned out through logging, so there’s nothing to soften the impact of heavy rains on hillslopes. Not enough trees to act as a sponge, slowing down the speed and volume of drainage. And the rainwater cannot run off into the ground because so many areas have been paved over in the overnight growth of our big cities.
And so people in small towns and villages are made to pay for this gross oversight by urban planners. The price they pay is not in cash but in terms of loss of natural beauty, peace of mind, and valuable food-growing land.
The government has only recently been making the right noises about conserving the environment, but does it have the political will to enforce its own regulations? Actions speak louder than words, and so far most of the action seems to be causing more and more destruction to our natural heritage.
Vision 2020 set an urgent deadline for all-out industrialisation. In our mad rush to meet it, much has been sacrificed... perhaps too much. Before we lose everything of real value, let’s do some straight talking.
WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM THE SELANGOR DAM?
1. Consumers in the Klang Valley. But only for three years. After which it is projected that even the Selangor Dam won’t be enough. So the government is planning to build three more dams in Pahang and eight more in Johore. Within ten years (or less) the Selangor Dam is expected to become dysfunctional due to silting. The dam will become a dangerous nuisance and may have to be decommissioned.
Decommissioning and dismantling a dam costs more than building one. In the U.S. alone 200 dams will have to be dismantled over the next ten years. Why don’t we learn from other people’s mistakes? The so-called developed nations have already destroyed much of their wilderness and now thoroughly regret it. They now eagerly seek out unspoiled placesto visit, in search of paradise lost. With the present policy of headlong “development” we’re in danger of cashing in our “paradise” status for a man-made hell.
2. Contractors and developers have been eyeing lucrative dam and highway projects as a way of saving themselves from the economic downturn. However, they try very hard tofool themselves and others that they undertake these mega projects in the national interest. The ruling elite in some countries start wars to boost failing economies. Dam and highway construction, you could say, is a declaration of war against nature. But with enough dam and highway projects, economies do appear to recover - but only in the short term. In the long term, however, nobody wins. Instead, our children and their children will inherit the sins of the present generation. They are the ones who will swallow the bitter pill of irretrievable loss of our environmental health. Yet we use them as a justification for our ruthless ambition and greed. “We want to give our children a better future,” is really an excuse for our obsessive pursuit of immediate big bucks.
3. The government can extend its mandate to rule by embarking on massive projects which involve such complex financial deals that nobody wants to upset the status quo. Ofcourse, the State will have a vested interest in these mega-projects, thereby blurring the line between private and public sectors. In effect, any political party that borrows heavily is hoping that no one will dare remove it from power until it has paid off its massive domestic and foreign debts. These are some of the evils of international usury.
WHO WILL SUFFER LOSSES FROM THE SELANGOR DAM?
EVERYBODY, including all those who benefit in the short term. But, in particular:
1. The Orang Asli will suffer from being forced, once again, to move from their familiar surroundings - having been accused of “nomadic” tendencies in the past. In fact, the government has tried for decades to persuade them to become permanent settlers, yethas never seen fit to grant them rightful tenure on land their ancestors have occupied for countless generations, perhaps for 40,000 years or more. Physically, they will have to adapt to being moved yet again. But psychologically, they will never again trust the government and those born and raised in the big city whom they regard as their adik (younger brothers and sisters).
2. The residents of Kuala Kubu Baru, Ampang Pecah, Rasa, Kuala Selangor, Kampung Kuantan - and numerous fisheries and cockle farms downstream of the dam project - will also pay a very high price for the dam. In 1883 a much smaller dam burst on the Selangor River and buried Kuala Kubu under tons of mud. Today the residents of Ampang Pecah (Broken Dam) live with the constant reminder of the dragon’s wrath. In 1996 they were twice flooded out of their new homes in the middle of the night by waist-high floodwaters which swept away 200 metres of a new road. But at least nobody drowned. In the event of a breach in the dam wall, the “tidal wave” will sweep over their rooftops.
Dam builders have no choice. They have to assure the public that their structures are “fail safe” or they would never be given the go-ahead. Today we all laugh when we learn that the Titanic was promoted as an “unsinkable” ship. Of course, it’s easier to enjoy the joke 88 years later, especially if your grandparents weren’t on board.
The EIA report on the Selangor Dam has noted that the proposed dam site is classified a “High Risk Erosion” area. Previous logging has loosened the earth and made it crumbly. We also know that water is an immensely powerful agent, working quietly over time to erode even the hardest rock. A dam collapse may not happen within a few short years - unless we get hit by heavy monsoon rains like those that flooded half the west coast in 1926. But would anyone like to gamble on how long such a nightmarish occurrence can bepostponed? 5 years? 10? 15? 20? Some of us may be long gone by the time such acalamity happened. But our children and our grandchildren will certainly be here to bearthe karmic cost of our apathy, our myopia, and our failure to make a firm stand against injustice and political adventurism. No one will ever again sleep soundly on stormy nights in Kuala Kubu Baru, Ampang Pecah, Rasa, and parts downstream. Not when a115-metre-high wall holding back 235 million tonnes of angry waters looms just a few miles upstream.
But long before any such destructive dam burst can recur, another tragedy could strike. People may start moving out of Kuala Kubu Baru and Ampang Pecah, causing a plunge in property values. Income from weekend tourism will drop sharply because of the massive disruption. The blasting carried out at the dam site during its estimated 4-year construction period will be like the sound of an enemy invasion, turning all our dreams into nightmares.
3. Nature lovers, picnickers, campers, jungle trekkers, whitewater rafters and kayakers will have nowhere to destress themselves while the dam is being built. True, ifthe project reaches completion without a hitch - and such ambitious schemes are always fraught with unknowns, just look at the Bakun fiasco! - the developers may be able tolandscape the lakeside areas into a scenic “nature” park. But it will be 100% man-made -not quite the same as Nature’s handiwork - and it will be in the hands of a giant corporation instead of the Orang Asli. Not only will millions of potential eco-tourist dollars be lost - but, more importantly, aesthetic and spiritual values that can never be measured in economic terms.
4. Other residents of planet Earth who have visited and fallen in love with the Pertak area - and those who have yet to experience such a joy - will be robbed of a gift so rare and so meaningful, we have to consider it sacred.
In short, the idea of damming the Selangor River and destroying forever such a beautiful recreational forest reserve - and endangering the lives and livelihoods of so many - is so irresponsible and so sinister, we can only call it diabolical.
Why else would there be an INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENT AGAINST LARGE DAMS dedicated to calling a moratorium on all dams above 50 feet (15 metres)? Indeed, March 14 has been declared International Action Day Against Dams and for Rivers, Water, and Life - please take note! The International Rivers Network has published masses of important information on their website (>http://www.irn.org/).
We are running short of water - not only in Malaysia but all over the world - simply because we humans have treated nature carelessly, ambition and greed making us forget our manners.
To make a bad situation worse, having failed in its duty to ensure that existing facilities are well maintained, the government now intends to build not just one colossal dam across the Selangor River - but THREE more in Pahang (which will displace more Orang Asli) and EIGHT more in Johore (presumably for our neighbours down south).
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES TO MORE DAMS?
Before anything can be done, there must be an independent Commission of Inquiry into the REAL reasons for our water woes. If the Commission finds that our Vision of Industrial Progress is cockeyed and unsustainable, there need be no embarrassment. All of us are capable of importing beliefs and values that are unsuitable for our specific needs. Once we recognise the problem, the obvious solution is to openly acknowledge our error andreassess our priorities. We must do the brave and decent thing and tell people that we were barking up the wrong tree. Then we must resolve to reverse our goals and policiesand go all out to:
· rehabilitate as many streams and rivers as we can - while seeking viable sources of groundwater (this is, in fact, the recommendation of the Department of Drainage & Irrigation)
· reforest denuded hillslopes - while enforcing anti-pollution laws
· encourage perma-culture in our cities; open more green spaces throughout all cities
· pass new laws requiring home owners to maintain roof gutters and collect rainwater for washing cars and watering plants
· educate the public on the value of water through a sustained media campaign
· impose heavy fines on those caught stealing mains water
· require all industries to install rainwater collection, storage and filtration facilities for general use; and to distill their own recyclable pure water where needed
· immediately begin to repair and/or replace all leaking pipes and mains, starting with theworst ones - this HAS to be done no matter how tedious and costly - or else, like someone with large holes in the pocket, we will ALWAYS have water shortages!
· revise our national development strategies to harmonize with the criteria of long-term sustainability
· decentralize and scale-down water supply plants so that each district can aim for self-sufficiency; import from afar only where absolutely necessary
· aim for full accountability and transparency in all aspects of administration - public as well as private - so that corruption, inefficiency, and criminal breach of trust can be kept to an absolute minimum
· practise participatory democracy in spirit, not merely in theory; this will dispel the fear ofauthority that now keeps feedback from being received as useful navigational information for executive managers
· be receptive to novel ideas born of lateral thinking that can resolve problems without serious conflicts; this requires that those in positions of authority constantly seek to have balanced, mature, and approachable personalities; fear and distrust of the government does not breed a creative, innovative and spirited society
DOCUMENT PREPARED BY:
44000 Kuala Kubu Baru
NOTE: This document may be forwarded, photocopied, translated
and published for general circulation as part of Magick River's
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