Dry days spell trouble for water guardian of Sabah village

Yami Baga worriedly inspects the water level at one of the water catchments used to supply water to his village.

KOTA KINABALU: It’s been a hot day, and Yami Baga is peering at the sky from his house in Kampung Kionsom, Inanam, hoping for signs of rain.

To his relief, dark clouds are forming in the distance, an encouraging indicator that a downpour is on its way.

Like several other villages in the area, Kampung Kionsom still relies on the water gravity system for its supply of water. The system, which uses the laws of gravity to move water from one point to another, is all the villagers have known since it was introduced in 1981.

Water for daily use is sourced from rivers and springs, and flows down to the village which lies in the foothills of the Crocker Range, about 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre.

Leaves and other debris block an intake pipe, covered with a filter, at one of the water catchments for Kampung Kionsom. Ideally, the intake access should always be submerged, but this is not the case today.

Yami is the guardian of the village water system. Despite the village’s proximity to the city centre, he knows that any prolonged period without rain will leave the residents high and dry as they have no access to treated water.

“All we can do is hope for heavy rain so that it will fill up the Kiapad Kionsom river and springs and, in turn, fill up our reservoir which supplies water to four areas in our village,” he told FMT.

If it doesn’t rain for more than a week or two, Yami is forced to switch off the main water source and conduct water rationing for the entire village.

“Otherwise we will not have water to use,” he said.

Villager Edy Jeffson, 28, describes what happens when the village is hit by a dry spell.

Yami switches off three of the four main pipes from the reservoir which supply water to the Talimakas Atas, Talimakas Bawah, Korumbiaan and Jalan Lama areas in the village.

Yami checks a reservoir built by villagers to store water from the Kiapad Kionsom river and springs.

This is done in turns, with rationing conducted for 12 hours per pipe.

“That means, for instance, Korumbiaan will get water from 6am to 6pm before Jalan Lama gets its turn, and so forth. This will continue until the river is full again,” Jeffson said.

Meanwhile, the villagers must simply wait their turn to receive water.

Jeffson said many residents have water tanks to store water, but even so, the situation can turn quite bad during long periods of drought.

Yami recalled having to conduct a water rationing exercise during Christmas last year due to the lack of rainfall.

“I had to carry out the exercise from Dec 20 to Jan 23,” he said.

Water from the Kiapad Kionsom river and springs pours into reservoir in Kampung Kionsom just after a downpour.

“During Christmas, I had to rearrange the rationing queue in order to accommodate a church that was holding Christmas activities. It was not actually the area’s turn to receive water.”

Sometimes, he added, houses further down the hilly village are unable to receive water because the water pressure is not strong enough.

“They have to go down to the river to take their bath and wash their clothes, among other things.”

According to Yami, the water gravity system was enough for the village in the 1980s.

“But over time, the number of residents has tripled. We now have over 1,000 people comprising more than 150 houses,” the 48-year-old former bank worker said.

“In the past, a drought could last three months and we wouldn’t worry. But now, we are concerned if it doesn’t rain for a week, what more a month. The water supply will be at a critical level.”

Yami attributed the problem in part to development around the area, especially hill-cutting and land clearing activities to make way for roads and other amenities.

Jesffson meanwhile said it was disheartening for a settlement within the state capital to still experience such things today.

“I know we are just a village, but this is still in Kota Kinabalu. There are several other villages which still depend on water gravity too.

“How long more before we can obtain treated water from the water department?”

Edy Jeffson waits patiently for the water rationing exercise in his area to end.

Even when it does rain, the water that comes down from the river is often murky.

Yami said the village was fortunate not to have experienced any health problems because of this. However, he urged the authorities to look into their plight before anything untoward happens.

“We applied to the water department several times before, but we were not successful,” he said.

“Once, a senior officer came to hear our grouses but we still didn’t get it. They told us there was no suitable place to put a big reservoir tank, and that the department did not have enough funds.”

But the Kampung Kionsom water guardian is still hopeful that things will be different under the new government.

“We make this plea to our leaders to help us and not only visit us during election time,” he said.