Political will needed in averting water crisis in Johor

Media statement by DAP Johor Chairman Liew Chin Tong on 19 November 2015

Most Johoreans do not understand why while heavy rainfall caused massive flooding in Johor Bahru on Monday 16th November 2015, yet there is no water in the dams to the extent that water had to be rationed since 16th August 2015, with no end in sight to the crisis.

The State government has explained that the reason for this is mainly spatial variation of the rainfall. We were unlucky, according to them, because while there are heavy downpour in some parts of Johor, it hardly rained within the water catchment area. Is that really true?

What has escaped public attention is the issue of the integrity of our water catchment forests. Most water catchment areas, which are supposed to be covered with forests, are now planted over with palm oil crops right to the edge of the water body. These water reservoirs were normally located faraway from main road, hence out of common sight from the public.

However, I have seen with my own eyes how severe the encroachment is in one of my recent field trips. It was truly shocking. Having no forests in the water catchment adversely affected the quantity and quality of water that enters the reservoir. We live in an age of climate uncertainty and the last thing the government should do is to allow rampant conversion of natural forests into commercial plantations in our water catchment area.

At the launch of Johor Water Forum 2015 on Tuesday 17th November 2015, Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin had effectively conceded that there is no end in sight for water rationing as yet and that rationing may have to be extended beyond 15th December 2015.

It was also reported that Singapore’s Environment and Water Resources Minsiter Masagos Zulkifli conceded that Singapore may have to ration water as water storage at the Linggui Reservoir in Johor had dropped to a new historic low of 43 percent, compared to an earlier low of 55 percent.

“If the water stock in Linggiu Reservoir does not recover, we may have to do more to conserve water, including restricting the use of water for non-critical activities such as washing of cars, operations of water fountains and watering of plants,” according to Masagos.

I had previously called on Khaled to declare a water emergency and take drastic measures in the short, medium and long-term to deal with the impending crisis.

Khaled mentioned about the need for Johor to have more experts to manage our water resources to which I concur.

But without the political will to deal with the palm oil estates that encroach into water catchment areas and without the political resolve to gazette and restore all water catchment forests, we are in for a long-term water crisis.

I was originally contemplating to move an emergency motion in Dewan Rakyat to urge the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water to intervene in the impending Johor water crisis. I met Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili who assured me that his Ministry would look into the matter seriously.

In the interests of the people and businesses in Johor, I call on Menteri Besar Khaled and Minister Ongkili to address the impending crisis speedily. Let us look at the water security issue from all angles, including political economy interests of the past and present that have made us so vulnerable to water shortages.

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