This is the second of the four part series dwelling on the environmental destruction that contributed to the worst floods in Kelantan in three decades.
KUALA LUMPUR – Rivers are one of nature’s greatest gifts which should be protected and preserved. When they are neglected and polluted they could wreak havoc on the environment and communities.
Sungai Nenggiri, one of the tributary of Sungai Kelantan, stretches 51 kilometres from Hulu Kelantan to Kuala Krai and was once the main communication route for neighbouring communities including for the 138 Orang Asli posts along the river.
Recent observations by Bernama found that the people, especially the Orang Asli community still rely on the river as a source of drinking water and in earning an income despite a drop in the water quality.
Today, however, the river originating from the interior and away from the hustle and bustle of development has become shallow.
The floods that hit Kelantan in December 2014 has left behind a trail of destruction.
The extraordinary water levels of Sungai Nenggiri even caused the Pulau Setelu Bridge spanning the river to collapse.
Records from the Kelantan Department of Irrigation and Drainage (JPS) indicated heavy rainfall in Ulu Kelantan from Dec 16 to 24, 2014 and the amount of rain recorded within the period at the Gunung Gagau Station was almost half of the state’s annual rainfall.
Kelantan JPS Beach Zone and River Basin Division chief assistant director Marizah Mohamad said the station recorded a total of 1,898 millimeters of rain.
“Looking at our records, floods began on Dec 16 and extreme amounts of rainfall came down in the next 10 days,” she said.
She said the danger level of Sungai Kelantan at Tangga Krai was 25 metres, and during the peak of the floods water levels were recorded at 34.17 metres.
“The water from Sungai Nenggiri, Sungai Galas and Sungai Lebir end up in Sungai Kelantan with the confluence being around Kuala Krai, which is why Kuala Krai experienced worse flooding,” she said.
IMBALANCE OF RIVER WIDTH AND DEPTH
A study conducted by the Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UNISZA) East Coast Environmental Research Institute on Jan 24 confirmed that Sungai Nenggiri had become shallow and would become even more shallow.
There is concern that the river may not accommodate the heavy rain during monsoon season like what happened recently.
UNISZA director Assoc Prof Dr Hafizan Juahir led the team which studied Sungai Nenggiri near the collapsed Pulau Setelu Bridge.
The findings indicated the river’s depth and width ratio were abnormal and this shocked Prof Dr Hafizan and his team.
“The river is quite wide, with 300 metres compared with it’s average depths of between 0.4 and 3.5 metres. It can be classified as shallow and incapable of catering to large amounts of rain,” he said.
Hafizan believed that incessant rain in the area on Dec 22 had caused several districts in Kelantan, especially those near secondary, primary and main rivers to be inundated.
RIVER BANK EROSION
Hafizan said river bank erosion and land clearing had contributed to the presence of suspended solids in the river.
He added that the amount of suspended solids had exceeded the limit set by the Department of Environment.
“The range is between 100-250 milligrammes per litre (mg/l). The National Water Quality Standard only permits not more than 150 mg/l. We feel that the suspended solids is most probably caused by land clearing and bank erosion.
“Although we received more rain in that period, we cannot deny that other factors contributed to the situation such as land clearing,” he said.
RIVER BETWEEN OIL PALM ESTATES
To further look at the river’s condition, the writer took the initiative to ride a motorboat along Sungai Nenggiri despite the danger of having to go against the strong currents and the logs beneath the water surface that could pose a danger.
Sungai Nenggiri acts as the main water body while its streams connect settlements such as Orang Asli villages of Pos Brooke, Pos Mering and Pos Pulat, Kampung Kuala Jenera and Kampung Kuala Penep.
The river, which is also popular for activities such as kayaking, fishing and eco-tourism, showed signs of erosion at the river banks following the flood.
What surprised the writer further was that only oil palm plantations could be seen on both sides of the riverbank, with oil palm trees only about a metre high and an oil palm factory operating nearby.
Boat operator Ahmad Tarmizi Ismail, 31, claimed that the factory had been operating for the past five years and that it discarded oil palm husks into the river.
“Sungai Nenggiri once boasted for the most expensive fish in Malaysia, the Mahseer, but they became extinct due to pollution,” said Ahmad Tarmizi.
WOES OF THE ORANG ASLI COMMUNITY
As to how the floods have affected the Orang Asli living near Sungai Kuala Betis, land clearing by unscrupulous parties in Hulu Kelantan have clearly left a negative impact on their lives.
Their houses are located merely eight metres from the river bank and a recurrence of the flood will surely pose a danger.
According to several Orang Asli chiefs residing near Sungai Kuala Betis, they have not experienced anything of this proportion in over 50 years there.
Kampung Merlong village chief Ibrahim Marijah, 58, felt the massive flood was like the wrath of God.
He said the environment around their settlement has changed following land clearing and logging activities.
“Who would have thought that logging activities from eight years ago would affect the Orang Asli community in such a way.
“If we compare this to 20 years ago, the river (Sungai Kuala Betis) was clean, clear and filled with lots of fishes. The village also uses water from the river.
“It saddens me to see our environment deteriorating. What will become of our future generations I wonder,” he told Bernama.
Meanwhile, Kampung Lambut village chief Adam Asu, 71, expressed his regret for requesting for infrastructure at the village.
The road had inadvertently opened the doors for logging in a greater scale.
“The tar roads were built to make our lives easier, but the timber lorries took advantage and ruined the roads.
“When I was younger such incidents never happened. Trouble appeared since these lorries came in and out of the village for the past eight years,” he added. – BERNAMA