Some 18,000 people in eight divisions of Sarawak, including Kuching, are facing water shortages due to a current drought.
This dry spell is caused by the El Nino phenomenon, says Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister George Chan.
How convenient to put all the blame on “El Nino”.
I spoke to an environmentalist and he said El Nino could be just one of the factors.
Given the size of Sarawak and its low population density, he said one would expect that there would be enough water in the state. Moreover, he said, even in the driest season, rivers do not dry up in Sarawak and water still flows into the sea. But he pointed out there is inadequate infrastructure and inadequate planning for water supply and distribution.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems, he said, is the mismanagement of water catchment areas.
He recalled how when he visited Miri in 1995, he found that the area had lost all its water catchment areas. The Lambir national park had been given up for logging, he said. Water had to be transferred from one water catchment area to another. Things over there could have changed by now.
A Sarawak-based academic pointed out that the haze began to hit Sarawak in a big way from 1997. That was also around the time the companies moved into massive oil palm cultivation. Companies began clearing forests and water catchment areas. That could explain some of the burning going on.
Also, a new phenomenon emerged later. After forests were completely cleared (instead of practising sustainable forest management), timber companies soon opened up tree (mainly acacia) plantations, but that did not restore the loss in biodiversity.
It’s a big no-no in the Malaysian media to point any fingers at large timber and oil palm corporations; however, it is okay to blame “farmers” for open burning.
All these factors are not discussed in the wake of the water rationing. Instead, the blame is pinned solely on El Nino, thus absolving the state government, which is supposed to protect water catchment areas and forest cover – and the corporations that destroy them – from any responsibility.