KOTA KINABALU: An environmentalist has said the construction of the Papar Dam will not solve the water supply issue in Sabah if other issues, such as leakages and irresponsible water usage, are not addressed.
Sabah Environmental Trust chief executive Dr Rahimatsah Amat said the new government must be wise in its approach to tackle the problem, including in plugging non-revenue water issues and inefficiencies on water usage.
“Non-revenue water means illegal water tapping and pipe leakages – these are the two major problems. Building a new dam alone will not help if these weaknesses within the system are not dealt with.
“And most important of all is efficiency awareness among users, which can reduce water shortage as you can minimise wastage,” he said to FMT.
But he said the proposed dam in Papar was needed.
“The only question is do you need it tomorrow, next year or in 10 years? And there would be no point if you build the dam but the management and maintenance are not there,” Rahimatsah said.
“The water volume itself is not short but rather it’s a matter of clean water due to siltation, pollution and land clearings over the years. For example, a reservoir that could hold 10 litres of water before can only hold six litres now because of these problems,” he said.
He said poor maintenance and management would still attract the same kind of problems. “If the water is still not enough, what do you do? Build other dams?” he asked.
The state government had recently announced it had scrapped the controversial Kaiduan Dam in Penampang but that it was building another one in Kampung Bisuang in Papar.
Villagers in Kaiduan, however, are nonetheless concerned and said that the only difference was the change in the project’s name, as the dam would essentially be built on the same river, hence, affecting their lives.
Task Force Against Kaiduan Dam (Takad) spokesperson Diana Sipail had said the revised project would still be built on the same river.
The Papar Dam will cover 5.22 sq km, an area just 0.08 sq km smaller than the area that would have been covered by the Kaiduan Dam. The cost of the Papar Dam is estimated at RM2 billion. The Kaiduan Dam was estimated to cost RM2.3 billion.
Rahimatsah said the problem with Kaiduan was that there were a number of things missing in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report causing much opposition to the project.
He said there were also issues relating to villagers not being properly consulted and improper compensation.
While he acknowledged he had little information on the Papar Dam, he said the government should approach the project properly.
“You need to plan, whether you need this dam now or 10 years from now. Because if you rush, of course, people will not be happy,” he said.
Rahimatsah added the government could also consider educating people to use water economically, raising their awareness on responsible water usage and also possibly charging a higher price for water.
“For instance, it’s like fuel. When the pump prices go up, you will see fewer people out on weekends as they will only go out only when necessary to save fuel – it’s the same with water.
“And water is highly subsidised here. When you start charging the real value for water, the awareness will go up. But of course this can’t be drastic and can only be done gradually,” he said.
Rahimatsah said there was no question the state’s demand for clean water would go up even more due to population and economic growth.
Chief Minister Shafie Apdal had said the state government had decided to scrap the Kaiduan dam project due to objections from the public, including from Parti Warisan Sabah leaders.
He said the government had instead proposed the new site to be in Papar, a district in the southwest of Sabah, adding that the dam was important to fulfil the state’s rising demand for clean water.