It takes a village to improve our air and water quality
By: Datin Sri Prof. Dr. Suhaiza Hanim Dato Mohamad Zailani
About 97 percent of our raw water supply for agricultural, household, and industrial applications comes from surface water sources, mostly rivers. Malaysia is fortunate to get more than 3,000mm of rain each year, which helps to produce an estimated 900 billion cubic metres of water each year.
Due to the burgeoning population, citification, mechanization, and crop production, Malaysians are facing water security problems as a result of increasing demand on water resources. This problem occurs even though there are plenty of water resources in Malaysia.
River contamination, surplus demand, the effects of climate change, and unsustainably developed land-use patterns all serve to worsen these problems.
On top of that, citizens’ health problems might result from unplanned water interruptions brought on by pollution.
S. Piarapakaran, president of the Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (Awer), referred to water cuts in the Klang Valley when he said there are a number of ways pollutants can enter the body, with chemical inhalation posing the greatest risk of exposure.
In accordance with this, people must be empowered to lead initiatives like the One State One River initiative and feel like they “own” the river, according to Professor Dr. Nor Azazi Zakaria, who is the director of the river and urban drainage research centre at the engineering campus of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
Additionally crucial is the management of sustainable land use, with construction projects designed in conjunction with waterways. Green space may be preserved in urban settings for stormwater management and pollution buffering, in addition to improving the quality of life.
Rainwater harvesting is another option Malaysians have to cut back on water use and lower water costs. The issues that floods pose for disadvantaged populations can also be addressed through flood preparation training.
To develop a sustainable society, Malaysia’s air quality must also be enhanced, apart from its water quality.
According to recent research by Greenpeace Malaysia and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), air pollution is thought to be the cause of 32,000 preventable deaths in Malaysia each year.
Transboundary haze episodes that frequently result in an increase in air pollution are caused by biomass burning and forest fires both inside the nation and in surrounding nations.
In line with this, the Malaysian plantation corporations, subsidiaries, and Malaysian-affiliated businesses operating in Indonesia have received a letter from the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change (NRECC) outlining steps to avoid open burning in plantation areas.
According to NRECC Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, the letter is meant to urge the businesses to take precautions to avoid peat and plantation fires, which are the primary contributors to transboundary haze pollution in the area.
To prevent severe haze episodes, it is crucial to regularly evaluate the air quality and cut back on pollution sources.
Along with stricter execution of the legal and regulatory framework related to the environment, action should be taken to raise public awareness of air pollution.
As opined by Associate Professor Dr. Mohd Shahrul Mohd Nadzir, a senior lecturer in the Earth Sciences and Environment Department at UKM, air quality sensor networks can be used in conjunction with conventional air quality monitoring systems to offer more thorough and localised real-time data on air pollution levels, therefore empowering and including people in the effort to reduce air pollution.
These affordable sensors can inspire communities to take action to decrease their exposure to air pollution and aid in improving the quality of the air by raising awareness of the effects of air pollution on human health and the environment.
In short, we must work together to integrate effective multifaceted coordination and partnership in order to discover broad-based, persistent ways out of urgent water, air, and other environmental concerns. This is important to accomplish SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, which in turn will achieve SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities.
The author is the Director of the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies, Universiti Malaya. She may be reached at [email protected]