Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wastewater threatens waterfront tourism at Sarawak River

THE role of the historical Sarawak River will be further cemented as a tourism jewel of the city centre of Kuching if things go according to the vision of Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg.

The Minister had big plans — going back a few years — for the iconic river as a key drawcard for tourists to Kuching as well as an important public transportation hub.

Pledging to fashion the Sarawak River into Kuching’s own little Venice, Abang Johari who is also Satok assemblyman, has been instrumental in getting a number of upgrading and beautification projects along the waterfront off the ground.

These include a fleet of water taxis to ply the river with about half a dozen jetties and pontoons being built to cater to the additional services.

Concurrently, boat builders in Sibu are fabricating a catamaran which may be used to link major hotels in the city center to the Borneo Convention Center Kuching (BCCK).

“Our MICE participants or business travellers can have breakfast on their way to the convention centre onboard the catamaran. In Hong Kong, that’s what they do,” Abang Johari told a press conference recently.

But with so much emphasis on the river as a tourism centrepiece, its water quality has come under the microscope, causing concern for organisers of river-based events such as the recent annual Sarawak Regatta.

Headings on public panels being displayed during the recent Government Transformation Programme 2.0 Open Day reflected as much: Wastewater pollution causing deterioration of water quality in Greater Kuching; The City’s rivers have become an open sewer and Currently Sungai Sarawak is Class III which is not suitable for recreational use.

The volume of wastewater pouring into the urban waterways has increased in tandem with Kuching city’s burgeoning population. Unsuprisingly, the cleanliness of the Sarawak River has come under close scrutiny with both foreigners and locals alike commenting on its soup-like appearance, oily surface and odours.

Professor Lau Seng who teaches Environmental Chemistry at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) questions the wisdom of conducting water-based sports activities in the Sarawak River due to the rising levels of water pollution.

“Sarawak River is highly polluted with biological organisms. The level of E. coli is high,” he pointed out.