GROWING up in Ipoh and raised by my maternal grandparents, I spent a lot of time exploring nature, especially rivers and waterfalls in the Kinta Valley.
Money was not easy to come by in my lower middle class family but we spent a lot of our weekends doing affordable adventures and activities near the rivers and waterfalls. It didn’t take a long journey to get to the rivers, and jumping into the clear running water, splashing with my brother and cousins, and catching fish and prawns were simply invigorating.
My grandmother fussed over preparing the best picnic meals, from egg sandwiches and coconut candies to nasi lemak and rendang and occasionally laksa. She even made cincau from scratch, chilling it in the fridge overnight so that we could enjoy its sweet and refreshing taste after a hot day of river explorations.
And we were strictly required to collect the trash we generated to ensure that we never left a dirty river behind because we would be coming back again.
Fast forward to 2018, and my heart breaks whenever I drive past the rivers in Ipoh. What used to be wide rivers with clear water are now narrow, drain-like waterways often choked with debris, mainly plastic, and emanating a horrible stench.
I once delivered a talk in a conference where the audience was mainly youths. When I asked my audience when was the last time they explored a river and had fun, not even one responded. When I asked why, a few brave youths stood up and said the rivers were dirty and disgusting.
It’s funny how rivers were embraced as the givers of abundant life just two decades ago but today they are associated with sickness and diseases.
Considering that more than 50% of our country’s drinking water come from rivers, it is scary when you actually look at the condition of our rivers today. Adding to the woes is the management of the rivers but this is also an issue globally.
The government has traditionally borne the responsibility of managing our rivers but the time has come for the public, NGOs, industrialists, farmers and other stakeholders to play their part too. In fact, it is the role of every Malaysian to minimise their impacts on the rivers.
The Sungai Bunus Action Group is probably the only community-centric, volunteer-driven river watchdog group in the country. It was formed in 2015 to advocate for better management and governance of the 9km Sungai Bunus with the official support and partnership of the Local Agenda 21 and Kuala Lumpur City Council (DBKL).
The Sungai Bunus Action Group, which comprises NGOs, schools and universities, businesses and even government agencies and ministries, signed a memorandum of understanding with the mayor of KL back then.
Our vision is simple: to improve the quality of the river and develop KL’s first connected river banks through walking and cycling paths. This would return what were once green riverside spaces to the city dwellers and provide areas for recreational and community activities. This is our contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 11, namely Building Sustainable Communities and Cities.
In the past, we have worked across a wide range of stakeholders, from students to ambassadors and businesses to NGOs, to engage as many people as possible to play bigger roles in helping to improve the condition of Sungai Bunus. Our efforts include educating and creating awareness about rivers; advocating for better river governance via media campaigns; developing riverbank community urban farms; and undertaking planting/river rehabilitation efforts with stakeholders.
But a lot more needs to be done.
We would like to encourage Malaysians, especially city folks, to participate in the Bunus Fun Walk 4 River 2018 event on Sept 29 and be part of the global celebration of World Rivers Day which occurs on the last Sunday of September every year.
World Rivers Day is a celebration of the world’s waterways and highlights the many values of our rivers, strives to increase public awareness, and encourages the improved stewardship of all rivers around the world.
We all must start taking proactive actions and even make sacrifices to protect, manage, conserve and restore our rivers especially near the cities, so that their resources and benefits can be sustained for future use.
Chairperson, Sungai Bunus Action Group
Founder and president, EcoKnights