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Integrated River Basin Management Report



Dato' Ir. Haji Keizrul bin Abdullah 
Director General, Department of Irrigation and Drainage, Malaysia 


Malaysia has some of the most beautiful rivers in the world. There are some 150 river systems in Peninsular Malaysia and a further 50 river systems in Sabah and Sarawak. Since the beginning of civilization, rivers have played a major and important role in shaping and influencing the development of the nation and the cultures of its people. Almost all major towns in Malaysia are located beside a river. The earliest settlement was beside a riverbank of the upper Perak River in a small kampung in Luat, Perak. Archaeological findings have also revealed that communities already existed in this upper Perak River area more than 30,000 years ago. The Penarikan Route in the early twelfth century, also known as the Golden Chersonese, is one of the earliest trading routes that existed along rivers in the peninsular. Kuala Lumpur was founded on the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers. Apart from these prominent historical heritage, Malaysian rivers have also provided a means of transport, helped to establish ports and towns, opened up the hinterland, provided a livelihood for the riverine people, brought new settlers inland, irrigated the land, generated hydropower, and influenced the culture and traditions of the people. Rivers in Malaysia, sharing a wide variety of flora and fauna, also offer tremendous recreational opportunities. 


Since gaining independence in 1957 and more recently driven by Vision 2020, Malaysia is fast evolving from what was primarily an agricultural/raw commodity economy -timber, rubber, tin and palm oil into an industrialised and manufacturing economy. Currently, manufacturing and construction are the main stimuli for the economic growth of the country. The industrial sector makes up some 46% of GDP while the share for the agricultural sector has fallen to around 13%. Continued rapid growth through land development, urbanisation and industrialisation has invariably had its toll on the environment. Rivers have not been spared from such impacts of development. The problems normally associated with rivers are:

Water Shortage

Located in the humid tropics, Malaysia is generally endowed with fairly abundant rainfall in the order of 3000 mm annually (about 990 million cu.m), of which surface run-off is around 57%. However, seasonal distribution and variation, both temporally and spatially, renders some regions to be occasionally water-stressed. Sixty percent (60%) of rain falls between November and January annually. Rapid economic growth in Malaysia in the recent past, coupled with periodic occurrence of prolonged drought has brought the problems of water imbalance into sharper focus, especially where development is concentrated in 'water-stress' regions. There are more people than what a river basin can support in some regions. The 1998 water crisis that hit the Klang Valley is a case in point. Water demand is increasing. Water use by the year 2020 is projected to increase from a current 15.5 BCM to some 20 million BCM.

  • Flooding 
    Malaysia is within the equatorial zone with a climate that is influenced by the alternating north-east monsoon and the south-west monsoon. The north-east monsoon Occurs from mid-November to March bringing with it heavy rain and floods, mainly hitting the east- coast of Peninsula Malaysia. The west coast areas are to some extent protected from the south-west monsoon by the island of Sumatra. It is estimated that around 29 000 sq. kIn. or 9% of the total land area in the country is prone to flooding, affecting some 2.7 million people. The average annual flood damage has been estimated at around RMl00 million at 1982 price levels (National Water Resources Study, 1982). With the rapid pace of industrialisation and urbanisation, the OCcurrence of flash floods in urban areas and along highways have also been on the rise.

  • River and Water Pollution 
    River at source is unpolluted but after human use, the water becomes discoloured. River water quaJity deterioration is synonymous with development and is the result of pollution from both point and non-point sources. From data compiled by the Department of Environment, the overall trend points to a slow but steady deterioration in the water quality of rivers around the country. Of 116 rivers monitored, 42 are rated as clean, 61 slightly polluted and 13 polluted. In terms of heavy metal contamination, 55 rivers have been found to exceed the maximum limit of 0.001 mg/l for cadmium, 44 rivers exceeded the iron limit of 1.00 mg/I, 36 rivers exceeded the lead limit of 0.01 mg/l and 24 rivers exceeded the mercury limit of 0.0001 mg/l. The main sources of organic water pollution are domestic and industrial sewage, effluent from palm oil mills, rubber factories and animal husbandry. Mining operations, housing and road development, logging and clearing of forest are major causes of high concentration of Suspended sediment in downstream stretches of rivers. In several urban and industrial areas, organic pollution of water has resulted in environmental problems and adversely affected aquatic lives. In the Klang Valley alone, an estimated 50-60 tons of wastes end up in the river system daily.

  • River Sedimentation 
    Malaysian rivers in the lower stretches are characterised by heavy silt loads especially after heavy rains. In urban areas, this is the direct consequence of extensive land clearing for projects such as housing, industry and highways and the subsequent severe erosion caused by heavy rains. Studies have shown that in urbani sed areas, 90% of sediment load to rivers come from land cleared for construction. In the Klang Valley, it has been estimated that erosion averages 2950 tons/sq km/yr for the whole catchment which is about 3 mm of soil loss a year. About 1 million cu.m of silt is removed from the Klang River annually. In some upstream m areas of the Sg. Batu catchment, severe erosion rates up to 50,000 tons/sq km/yr have been estimed. These figures are considerably high when compared with rates for undisturbed forest catchments of only around 100 ton/sq km/yr.

  • Squatters 
    The presence of squatters within river reserves is detrimental to the river in a number of ways. These squatter areas are not provided with proper sewerage and rubbish disposal facilities. As such most of the sewage and sullage water generated within the area find their way directly into rivers. Taking the Klang Valley as an example, according to surveys carried out by the Selangor State Government and DBKL in 1997 and 1998, the estimated squatter population residing in the Klang Valley totalled some 300,000 with 130,000 living in Wilayah Persekutuan and 170,000 in Selangor. Out of this total, it is estimated that between 20,000-40,000 squatters population occupy river reserves. Assuming an average consumption of 150 l/day per person, the total sullage and sewerage water generated by squatters channeled directly into the Klang River is estimated at 4.5 million litres daily. The same applies to solid waste management within squatter areas. In most cases, it is very poorly managed and rubbish is generally disposed to a common dumping area on the banks of the river, which invariably gets washed down to the river.



In the quest of development, wetlands were reclaimed for agriculture; forests cut down for housing, industry, or new highways; rivers diverted or impounded for hydropower generation; and many rivers conveniently used to discharge waste. Over time the cumulative effects of such actions are already being felt much to the detriment of the environment. Nature has been taken for granted as something that we could manage and control and ad-hoc "end of pipe" solutions have normally been taken to deal with issues as they arise. For example, rather than redirect storm-water to open areas to allow natural infiltration and gradual replenishment of streams, current 'quick-fix' solutions are aimed at rapid diversion or removal via drainage systems connected to nearby streams. In doing so, the problem from one location is often transferred to another. To prevent further deterioration of the river environment calls for more innovative and comprehensive approaches aimed at bringing nature back to rivers. To do this, a number of key issues or elements must be addressed as illustrated in the Figure 1 below: Legislation Malaysia is not just rich with water, but also rich with water laws. There are some 40 Federal laws related to land and water. In addition, there are 3 or 4 enactments in each state. Adding all the related laws, Malaysia has more than 100 laws related in one way or other to water or rivers. These laws generally govern the use rather than the protection of the resources. Conflicts and overlaps are therefore common. There are also the contentious issues of Federal and State jurisdiction to be dealt with. Hence, there is a need for a more comprehensive and contemporary river/water law and this process admittedly is time consuming.


There are numerous laws with gaps and overlaps, there are also many agencies and departments involved dealing with fragmented sectoral functions. There is invariably lack of resources to carry out the enforcement. The penalties are inadequate and political will is often lacking. 

River Basin Authority (RBA)

 As described earlier, fragmented laws and institutions and the lack of well-defined jurisdiction has become a definite obstacle to sustainable resource development and management. There is a clear need for an institution, like a river basin authority (RBA) that can integrate and co-ordinate activities within a river basin. Efforts towards this end have already been initiated by the State of Selangor with the recent passing of a contemporary water law, which applies IRBM concepts for the management of rivers. As a consequence, most of the earlier fragmented laws have also been repealed. Under this enactment, the Selangor Waters Management Authority or "Lembaga Urns Air Selangor (LUAS) has since been established, charged with the responsibility to plan and regulate land and water development and activities in an integrated manner at the river basin level. In managing individual sectors, the need to distinguish the regulatory and service provider roles is essential for effectiveness and greater efficiency. 

Curative Cleaning  

Curative measures that include physical cleaning of the river and providing sewerage treatment works have been implemented and will continue to be undertaken to rehabilitate and r~~9re river water quality. At the same time, mitigation works against flooding are also 6fjJg implemented. However, t~e pace in implementing such measures, which at times are unending, often lag behind the rate of degradation of river water quality and the increase and extent of occurrence of floods. Needless to say, such curative measures are costly and time consuming, which the limited public sector coffers can ill-afford considering other more urgent priorities that need to be addressed. 


 For sustainable solutions, the objective must necessarily be one of prevention, very much in line with the adage "prevention is better than cure". Such approaches would invariably require the removal of the sources and causes. Even issues like erosion can be controlled or avoided. Each river has its optimum "carrying capacity" and to keep demands within this capacity, the problems should be addressed and treated at source (or source control). It often requires regulatory action and hence the need to ensure enforcement, when necessary, through appropriate legal instruments. Preventive measures are cost-effective and offer long term solutions. 


Planning for development should be done in an holistic manner. Master Plans and Zoning Plans must adopt an integrated approach in addition to being proactive and preventive. There should also be appropriate standards set which conform to best practices. Comprehensive manuals and guidelines must also be available to ensure quality and ease in implementation. The recently introduced Malaysian Stormwater Manual is one such example. 

Public Participation

 While the concept is still new in Malaysia, the participatory approach and involvement of all stakeholders in the entire project/programme cycle is a key element to ensure success and sustainability in the long term. Strong and smart partnerships are essential to create win-win solutions, with the community and other stakeholders (as corporate citizens) accepting their share of responsibility. Such participatory management mechanisms need time to develop for which appropriate public awareness campaigns and education programmes would need to be put in place early. NGOs can play an important and facilitating role in such programmes. 


Finance is a critical resource common for all the elements mentioned above. Water is both a social and economic good. In addition, it is also a public and private good. All programmes would entail both direct and indirect costs and benefits. Financial instruments, especially those with a view to enable cost recovery, requires that there is transparency and accountability in all processes and transactions. Polluter/user pay principles are currently widely used in many countries and are relevant also for adoption in Malaysia. Privatisation is not new in Malaysia. It is an option to consider for service provision in the implementation of both development and recurrent operation and maintenance programmes.     


Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) is defined as "the coordinated management of resources in natural environment (air, water, land, flora, fauna) based on river basin as a geographical unit, with the objective of balancing man's need with necessity of conserving resources to ensure their sustainability". IRBM is geared towards integrating and coordinating policies, programmes and practices. It addresses water and river related issues. It requires improved professional capability and increased financial, legislative, managerial and political capacity. In essence, it is about bringing nature back to rivers and implementing all the key elements as illustrated in Figure 2.  

Figure 2 : Key elements of IRBM CONCLUSION 
With rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, problems and issues related to rivers and the river environment are expected to intensify. River basins need to be managed in an integrated and holistic manner (IRBM). Corresponding institutional and legal changes are needed, coupled with and effective administrative fframework. Above all, political will and commitment is vital to ensure success.



Last Updated 2017-05-12 01:58:53 by Administrator

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