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DID ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY IMPROVED DUE TO MCO?

LETTER TO EDITOR
Date: 04 MAY 2020 (MONDAY)

DID ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY IMPROVED DUE TO MCO?

In recent weeks, there have been many reports citing improved environmental quality referring to clearer skies and cleaner rivers. While these incidents have been motivating many, some statements issued by officials paint a misleading picture of the actual situation. There was also a river that appeared to be cleaner prior to Movement Control Order (MCO) due to long term rehabilitation work was wrongly associated with MCO.

Malaysia implements MCO to curb Covid-19 spread. Due to this, the economy is not operating at its normal levels. What we are facing now is the result of very low pollution loading to the environment. Therefore, we do not observe pollution via naked eyes. But, it is absurd for officials to issue statement like “we hope Malaysians can keep the pollution under control like present after the MCO” to continue to keep the environment clean as now.

The key to this problem is always pollution loading. Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (AWER) has been pursuing for the past few years for the government to implement pollution loading based pollution control mechanism specifically for water pollution. We have not seen any firm move towards this till date.

One of our successes in reducing air pollution loading is for transportation sector when the government implemented our suggestion to upgrade EURO 2M fuel types to EURO 4 and above. However, some fuel companies convinced the government to delay mandatory compliance for all fuel type causing the delay in the positive environmental impact for fuel type quality upgrade.

Why Pollution Loading Is A Vital Component?

Our environment only manages pollutants to a certain level. Pollution occurs when pollutant amount increases beyond natural ability to breakdown. Due to increase in population and economic activity density as well as loss of forest cover over the past few decades, pollution loading to our rivers and environment has increased many folds. Therefore, to manage pollution we need to reduce the pollution loading by utilising technological enhancement as well as stricter environmental enforcement. Both solutions play vital role. Technology continues to evolve as we speak and there are plenty of choices for us to utilise and benefit from. It is government’s actions that need a paradigm shift.

Will We Be Able To Enjoy A Cleaner Environment In Near Future?

It is actually possible to enjoy a cleaner environment even better than what we are experiencing during MCO. This is provided that Department of Environment (DOE) and state governments are willing to upgrade their archaic way of operation. DOE is in charge of managing pollution and enforcement to prevent pollution. They have wide range of power but “self regulate” their own powers for some bizarre unknown reason. On the other hand, state governments are fully responsible for land-use change. Many forests have fallen when land-use is changed but there is no replacement for ecosystem that took millions of years to form. These 2 key players must be made fully responsible for our current environmental condition whether they like or not.

What Should The Government Do?

State governments and their elected representatives must be made fully responsible for the decisions they make in land-use change. When state governments wants to change land-use type to activities that will give more environmental impact, stricter legal process must be put in place with full public participation encompassing the local communities, field experts, federal agencies and other stakeholders. Therefore, we need to control state government’s powers on land-use. All virgin forest and water catchment areas must be fully protected immediately and no activities should be allowed for eternity. This is basically because water catchment areas are already shrinking and the population and economic activities is always increasing posing higher demand for water.

As for DOE, we need to revamp DOE and place the power to make decision to Environment Quality Council (EQC) where Director General is a member. EQC is just a rubber stamp entity at the moment. Environment Quality Act must be amended to make way for restructuring within DOE and independent committees must be formed using members of EQC to ensure decision making process is more structured and transparent. EQC members must be selected for field experts and stakeholders. Similarly, the power of minister in charge of environment must be limited to enhancing the roles and responsibilities of DOE and not issue directive to make DOE impotent at any time.

DOE must also implement effective wastewater discharge standard based on pollution loading which will be able to assist in pollution reduction. By implementing this periodically, we will be able to increase the quality of raw water and making more rivers available as raw water for drinking and agricultural purposes. A successful implementation will be able to show positive results between 5 to 10 years. AWER has submitted a few suggestions along this perspective to be implemented in the 12th Malaysia Plan and forwarded it to the Prime Minister and Minister in charge of Economic Planning Unit. Using this case example, DOE can expend the pollution loading based environmental standard for other type of pollution periodically.

Sewerage A Single Most Polluting Sector

Sewerage is actually one sector that polluting to our rivers single handedly when we exclude all the illegally operating and waste discharging operations. The reluctance of Indah Water Konsortium to restructure under National Water Services Industry Restructuring Process since 2008 only makes the situation worse. The masterplan for sewerage sector under 11th Malaysia Plan and sewerage catchment planning is also not ready. To reduce pollution from this sector we need to improve sewerage treatment facilities that have actual measure and comparative studies. We were also informed how a so called cost effective and environmentally friendly technology was approved with vague process last year and things like this must stop. Injecting new capital expenditure and joint billing for sewerage operation we need a restructured sewerage sector according to the plans approved by Parliament and Council of Rulers more than a decade ago. At the moment, there are those within the industry working against restructuring to keep IWK as private company and other motives related to sewerage capital expenditure that was estimated to be around RM 60 Billion (a decade ago estimation). Minister in charge of water and Ministry of Finance (owner of IWK) must step in to speed up restructuring immediately.


Real Cost Of Pollution

After pollution occurs the cost that can be recovered under the existing law is the penalty and the cost of clean-up only. Polluters pollute simply to save their operational cost and maximise profit. But, when pollution occurs it disrupts other economic sectors as well as harm human’s health. We need to make polluter pay the real cost of pollution and not just the small penalties under the existing law. So far, this is the only part that is neglected in all laws pertaining environmental and water protection when it comes to cost recovery. Just look at water disruptions in Klang Valley due to pollution. All the losses due to supply disruption and preparation of emergency supply services are not accounted for. Why should we embolden the polluters? When Environment Quality Act is amended, we need to include this portion as well.

Human Touch

We need real change in protecting our environment. All of us will have to play a role. As members of public, we need to support “real” environmentally friendly products as there are many false claims associated with products as marketing gimmick. We need to ensure the government and its agencies are accountable to their actions. Just look at how inanely Pasir Gudang pollution was handled twice and made Malaysia look foolish. We should not allow this to keep repeating if we want to pass on a clean environment to our future generation. So, MCO does not really ease our environmental problems. We need to solve the pollution loading first. Let’s buckle up.


Piarapakaran S.
President
Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (AWER)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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