Rubbish trapped in Sungai Bertam.

KUALA LUMPUR: ONLY 10 per cent of the 123 rivers in Cameron Highlands are in healthy condition.

Regional Environment Awareness Cameron Highlands (REACH) president Ramakrishnan Ramasamy said most rivers in the highland, known for its tourism and agriculture, are heavily polluted.

He said data  from the Department of Environment (DoE) and the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) showed that only about 10 per cent of 123 rivers were in Class I and Class II, while the remainder were in Class III and Class IV.

He also said three rivers had been declared biologically dead, and came under  Class V of the classification.

According to Ramasamy, the biologically dead rivers are Sungai Tringkap, Sungai Icat (near Kampung Kuala Terla and Sungai Terla, which is the main source of water supply in Cameron Highlands) and Sungai Parang (near 33rd Mile between Tanah Rata and Habu).

 The Interim National Water Quality Standards (INWQS) listed six classes (I, IIA, IIB, III, IV and V), which referred to classification of rivers or river segments based on a descending order of water quality, with Class I being the “best” and Class V being the “worst”.

“If the rivers in Cameron Highlands could talk, it would most probably say to human beings — ‘don’t kill me’,” said Ramasamy.

REACH  recently released a short documentary using drone footage  in an effort to save Sungai Bertam, which has been classified under Class IV, as well as other polluted rivers, with the hope of gaining the attention of the authorities.

“We hope to conduct an awareness campaign to protect and preserve rivers in Cameron Highlands from pollution.

“This may seem like an uphill battle with the odds stacked against us, but as responsible citizens, we will not allow our beloved rivers to die,” he told the New Straits Times.

The three-minutes and 45-second documentary, titled Tears of a River, documented the pollution of Sungai Bertam, one of three main rivers in Cameron Highlands.

Available on YouTube, the film captures how the river had turned into a “dirty drain” within the first 2km of the river after decades of abuse, mainly caused by development projects and agricultural activities.

Ramasamy noted that heavy rain had also caused sewage to flow into the river, while people had been discharging waste, both solid and liquid, into the river or its feeder drains.

“At the same time, pesticide and fertilisers, which carry a heavy load of pollutants such as oxygen-depleting nitrate, make their way from farm soils into rivers and threaten to aggravate an already serious situation.”

He pointed out that popular riverside attractions in Cameron Highlands, such as Parit Falls and Robinson Falls, had long been given a miss by people especially the locals.

Ramasamy warned that the people living downstream of polluted rivers might be unaware of the pollution.

A river with high level of pollutants might appear deceptively clean, as even crystal clear water contained toxic substances, he said.

Ramasamy said he had lost faith in the local authorities as there had been little effective action despite warnings and revelations.

Citing an example, he said in 2015, REACH and Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PANAP) revealed that banned pesticides, such as endosulfan, edrine ketone, aldrin and DDE, which is a derivative of the dangerous DDT found in the water catchment and riverine system in Cameron Highlands.  

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