‘Just what is it with Penang?’


Why hasn’t Penang been hit with water rationing so far? Himanshu Bhatt wrote this piece for fz.com a couple of days ago.

‘JUST what is it with Penang?’ That was the comment I just got from a friend in Kuala Lumpur.

While more and more urban centres around Peninsular Malaysia get mired in an escalating water shortage crisis, Penang refuses to show any sign of being affected.

A couple of weeks back, the media in fact splashed images of the state’s executive councillors – of all people – frolicking away for photographers in front of a gushing waterfall beside the Botanic Gardens.

Meanwhile, in Selangor and the Klang Valley, close to seven million people are being impacted by water disruptions due to low water volumes in the dams.

Even Taiping – said to have the highest rainfall for any town in the country – is beginning to undergo rationing due to falling levels in the dam and treatment plant there.

But the water catchments on Penang island have yet to show any major sign of significant depletion. After almost three months since the drought began, there is still underground water. How come?

Simply put, there is no water crisis in Penang, because our forefathers took the defiant step to protect our hills.

It is a vindication of the policy set by the authorities many decades ago – starting with the British colonial administration and followed by the state government after independence – to gazette much of the island’s green slopes and forests.

Against scathing pressures of rising populations and expanding construction projects, our predecessors decided to gazette the range of hills that take up much space on our island – recognising their immense value as natural water catchments.

And therefore today, despite the meagre rainfall over the last three months, we see the continuous flow of natural water.

The situation is a robust consequence of the wisdom in preserving our precious natural assets.

Imagine the hills cleared

As of yesterday, the Ayer Itam Dam on the island was filled to cater for 63 days’ continuous supply without rain and the Teluk Bahang Dam up to 233 days.

The country is in the throes of a massive water crisis.

But in Penang the unpopular decision made by the administrators of the past is saving us, here and now in the present.

Accordingly, it must show that the decisions taken by our present generation – on whether to protect or remove our natural assets – will impact, for better or for worse, our own descendants in the future.

Mind you, the state government has expressed some alarm at the possibility that the situation may deteriorate, and is preparing contingency plans in case the drought worsens.

It has also chided the pampered present-day public for wasteful consumption. Indeed, many people take the water they enjoy today for granted.

We have even heard people make comments about how Penang could have developed like Hong Kong or Singapore, had it allowed real estate construction over much more its land.

With the current crisis casting a shroud around us, do we now dare imagine what our plight would be like had the decision been made in the past to let the precious hills be razed for concrete?

Logan’s prophetic words from 1848

While we start to panic about water shortage and climate change, it is apt to recall the prophetic words penned by British lawyer and ethnologist, James Richardson Logan, some 166 years ago.

His warning, published in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia in 1848, was highlighted by blogger Anil Netto in November 2009. Here is what he wrote:

“It was remarked that the whole of the eastern front of the range [of a mountain in Pinang] has within a few years been denuded of its forest… Climate concerns the whole community and its protection from injury is one of the duties of Government…

“The great extent to which the plain of the mainland of Pinang has been shorn of its forest would of itself produce an urgent necessity for a stop being at once put to a war with nature, which must entail severe calamities on the future.”

Logan further noted: “In those mountains of Greece which have been deprived of their forests, the springs have disappeared. In other parts of the globe, the same consequence has followed. The sultry atmosphere and dreadful droughts of the Cape de Verde Islands are owing to the destruction of forests….”

He added: “We are informed that the destruction of jungles on the mountains of Pinang has been allowed to proceed unchecked for the last two years.

“If any of the residents will bring it to the notice of the Governor we are sure from our knowledge of his opinions, with respect to the necessity of preserving hill jungle, that he will not only make an order on the subject, but what is essential, provide means for carrying it into effect.”

A memorial in his name – the Logan Memorial – today stands in front of the Penang court complex in Light Street.

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10 Apr 2014 9.51am

The forest and hill reserved is finite. But the population growth keep increasing. Similar to the road congestion problem, more road will not solve the increase of motor vehicle on the road.

Water conservation policies is still not in place. High rise building still flush the rain water directly into the drain, causing flash flood.

8 Apr 2014 12.31pm

Mukritz the MB not that businessman Mokhzani though both planted by M to influence Msian way of life.

tunglang’s literary & marketing skills can gain him easy migration to Aussie world (go attend 2nd seminar on migration to Tony Abbot’s land at hotel next to Q-Bay Mall this month). Tunglang can helop to promote kangaroos/koala/tasmanian devils over Penang meow meow cats ???

Sunny Ooi
Sunny Ooi
8 Apr 2014 12.13am

Then how come Taiping also has water shortage? They cannot be more developed than Penang right?

8 Apr 2014 10.24am
Reply to  Sunny Ooi

Sunny, good and sound question.

8 Apr 2014 10.58am
Reply to  Sunny Ooi

A developed Penang is more at risk of water shortage in the short run or near future than less developed Taiping, which btw has more jungles, rivers, rain clouds, water condensation & the Main Range in Perak alone as water catchment ‘collaterals’ in case of no rain. All they Taipingites need is a better water acquisition, storage & distribution. They could one fine day sell water to us Penangites at a premium price. Kedah MB, Mokhzani is already putting on his water-thinking hat. So don’t be too cocky confident or Cat-Pride that Penang has better development to secure/manage long term… Read more »

Rich Daddy
Rich Daddy
7 Apr 2014 5.42pm

kee, be a good loser. Respect the voting rights of those 47% as claimed by you. By the way, the Chinese ambassador already praised Malaysia effort and sharply criticize western media for spinning. Who are you anyway to say otherwise ??? It seems that you trust the western media without questioning. I pity for your misinformation.

Finally, I want to say loudly, Malaysia Boleh !!! Congrat to Lee Chong Wei for beating the Chinese player soundly !!!

7 Apr 2014 2.49pm

Great article. Neither side of the political divide have politicians that focus on what kind of place we want to live in, and how we protect it. All they want to do is “develop” what they can at any cost.

Nothing says it more than the vultures hovering around turning Penang Hill into a theme park. Just pathetic. A guy who did something 166 years ago has more foresight than the 1 dimensional choices we have for government today.

7 Apr 2014 11.49am

My water bill for 2 months is always RM5. After watching a documentary seeing how hard some people in the world travelling miles and miles, and for weeks just to get some water, i now recycle my water. I always say i cant imagine what would have become of penang if today penang is still under the rule of ya ya betul betul gerakan ??? Under the rule of Gerakan the hills in tg bungah/batu ferringhi previously gazetted as green belt had since been converted for development… Those who have eyes can easily see how BN has ruined this country… Read more »

8 Apr 2014 12.37pm
Reply to  kee

agreed with you that we need to conserve water. recycle urine as fertlizer to water plants, shower water to clean the cars etc. many people in rural china, india, africa got to carry water by miles daily not like us easy access to ready available tap water.

1derfool Malaysia cheated the poors with leakages by millions even MCA’s The Star today put it on front page. About time Gerakan stop acting silent (part of STP2 conspiracy in collaboration with CAT-admin ?)

7 Apr 2014 10.57am

After “botak” hill being rehabilitated, the area should be called Logan’s Park to remind Penangites not to mess with unsustainable tree chopping that can harm the water supply to future generations.
otherwise need to plan to divert water supply eg from Belum Forest Lake to meet the demand of increased population especially at Northern region of Phase 2…to Phase 9 reclaimed land.

Khoo Boo Yeang
7 Apr 2014 10.51am

Is the waterfall at Titi Kerawang still a “waterfall” or is the stream almost dried up due to water being diverted into swimming pools of “bungalows” situated upstream?

Rich Daddy
Rich Daddy
7 Apr 2014 7.35am

Suddenly Barang Naik is not only the exclusive trademark of Barisan. Pakatan too = Barang Naik !!! And our water rate is still the lowest in Malaysia. It sounds familiar, right ??? A politician is always a politician. Congrat to Pakatan, you are a fast learner !!!

6 Apr 2014 11.21pm

Nature’s water or cosmopolitan bing chui? While we want development to bring about economic prosperity & opportunities, are we carefully balancing the ‘act’ with sustainability in mind? Is short term gain motivated by frenzied investment/commercial greed & by marketing-created excesses of consumption worth its while against long term (or eternal) loss of irreplaceable natural resources? Can we move to a new paradigm shift (of less consumption of unaffordable bing chui & adoption of simplicity living) regarding wealth creation, which until now solely embraces or worst, worships 24/7/365 money, gold, shares, Mercs or high-end lifestyle property assets. Is not happiness &… Read more »

6 Apr 2014 6.09pm

After 3 months of drought we can still see water flowing into the air itam dam. Yes its because our fore father is defiant in protecting our environment but an outside CAT is coming in to destroy that and using this excuse to increase water tariff. Before GE he said no increase in water or others but water tariff and property tax have been increased substantially. Now that is one of the many ills and … deceits that we must put to a stop. Worse still Penang environment will be destroyed through this moron haphazard development.