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Life returns to Danga Bay's rivers


I WAS among many people who were riled up at recent news pictures of animal carcasses being dumped into rivers that are a source of drinking water to millions in China.

But pollution of rivers is nothing new. This is a saga that has besieged mankind for generations and it continues to plague our lives, even today.

While we have own share of dirty rivers, this phenomenon is not unique to Malaysia.

South Korea spent a colossal sum cleaning up the famous Han River, which previously served as Seoul's dumping place for untreated sewage and industrial waste. When the 1988 Summer Olympics and 2002 World Cup loomed in the horizon, the authorities embarked on a massive clean-up of the river.

Today, "the Miracle of the Han" is a manifestation of the river's resurgence.

Across the Causeway, the clean-up of the Singapore River and Kallang Basin in 1997 resulted in the successful reinvigoration of what had once been the dirtiest waterways in the island republic.

The Singapore government not only breathed new life into the rivers, but also transformed them to become desired locations for waterfront housing, and entertainment and dining establishments.

Today, the river sparkles with life and exudes a vitality for the enjoyment of everyone.

Closer to home, I remember the Lido Beach in Johor Baru fronting the Straits of Johor being branded as the "filthiest waterway in Malaysia", back in the early 1990s.

Indeed, a hydrology study in 2002, commissioned by Gerbang Perdana, builder of the scrapped bridge to replace the Causeway, found the Johor Straits to be heavily polluted with heavy metals, sewage and leachate.

The pollutants, accumulated over the years, were found trapped on both sides of the 93-year-old Causeway, making the straits the most polluted waterway in the country. Virtually nothing survived here.

Indeed, there used to be public notices along Lido Beach warning people not to swim because of the high toxic content of the water. Even today, in the absence of a central sewerage treatment plant for the JB Central Business District, all the sewage carried by the infamous Sungai Segget is discharged directly into the straits.

I was told that until recently, even sewage from the Sultanah Aminah Hospital was conveniently flushed into the straits. Now you know why it was so heavily polluted.

Now, thanks to the development of Danga Bay by Iskandar Waterfront Holdings Sdn Bhd, a major transformation and clean-up operation has been on-going since 1996.

"We have spent more than RM200 million to date on the rehabilitation of Sungai Danga, Sungai Skudai and Sungai Melayu, all of which converge at the basin in Danga Bay," said Iskandar Waterfront head of projects and development, Morgan Liew.

"We've invested some RM20 million on equipment and machinery alone for the river cleaning operations. Our latest acquisition is a RM2 million dredger, which is the first of its kind in the country."

The results of Iskandar Waterfront's untiring efforts to rehabilitate and reinvigorate the three rivers are clearly evident today. Gone is the foul smell that was so horrible that it was impossible to even spend 10 minutes by the waterways without feeling nauseated.

Gone, too, is the black stinking sludge at the river bed that kept away all aquatic life. Incredibly, the Orang Asli now are able to catch large mud crabs and shrimps.

"The pollution used to be so bad that nothing survived. Now many of us have resumed fishing for a living," said fisherman Tiwang Tawang, 65.

The refreshing, clean waterway and basin means even pleasure crafts can now ply the straits, not to mention the scores of people who daily use the Danga Bay boardwalk for picnicking, leisure or just to enjoy the picturesque scene.

Iskandar Waterfront's "miracle of the three rivers" is undoubtedly an inspiring story. Its success in turning pollution-laden rivers into a tourist destination is clearly an example for others to emulate.

A dredger mounted on a tugboat removing waste and sediment from the Danga Bay basin.

Aerial view of the Danga Bay river-cleaning programme. The dredger and silt curtain can be seen on the right side of picture.

The crystal blue waters of Danga Bay are the result of a river-cleaning programme by Iskandar Waterfront. File pictures.

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