Mighty Rajang running dangerously low

By Joseph Tawie, Free Malaysia Today

KAPIT: The Rajang River, once mighty and voluminous, is fast running low – no thanks to the dry spell and the impoundment of the Bakun Dam. The water level has reached a critically low point, triggering alarm among residents along the river.

The alert has gone out to the authorities to keep watch on more than 79 schools located downstream.

The schools in Kapit, Song and Belaga collectively have 20,000 students and if it doesn’t rain next week, then the schools will have to be closed, a spokesman of the state education department said.

“So far, the Kapit education office has not sent us an SOS… nevetheless, we are on standby and closely monitoring the situation,” he said.

The dry spell coupled with the impoundment of the Bakun Dam has cut off river communications with several primary and secondary schools between Kapit and Belaga, resulting in severe shortage of food supplies.

The record low water level in the once voluminous Rajang has created chaos in the state river transport network, disrupting the transport of goods, food and medicines to schools, stores and clinics in the interior.

As a result, prices of food and drinks in Kapit, for instance, have shot up in recent days.

Meanwhile, State Land Development Minister James Masing urged the relevant authorities such as the federal Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs to take stern action against shopkeepers seen to be profiteering from the situation.

“The authorities must do something now before the prices of food stuff and drinks go out of control,” he said.

Kapit SOS

Meanwhile, Kapit MP, Alexander Nanta Linggi, sent an urgent plea to the federal government to intervene and help the people in Kapit affected by the low water level.

“The federal government should give greater attention and bigger allocation for the construction of access roads to longhouses in and along the Rajang River,” he said in Parliament recently.

“It would appear that this low water level of the Rajang River and other tributaries is going to be a permanent feature. It will then be difficult to navigate, thus burdening the people,” he said.

Since the impounding of the Bakun Dam began on Oct 13, the water level at the Rajang River has consistently dropped.

In Kapit itself, the water level, which was recorded at 6.7 metres above sea level on Oct 13, went down to below two metres five days later and continuing to drop. The normal water level is 8m.

Second State Planning and Resource Management Minister Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hassan had reportedly expressed shock.

He was quoted to have said that the “government had expected the water level at the Rajang River to recede to a certain degree during the impoundment but not at the current level,” which is “totally unexpected.”

However, he said that nothing could be done as the impoundment could not be stopped.

Kapit-Sibu roads

Meanwhile, calls for the government to build the long-awaited Kapit-Sibu trunk road have resurfaced.

Nanta, whose family has been spearheading the campaign for the Kapit-Sibu road for over 40 years, said the current development makes it imperative for alternative routes to be built linking the township to Sibu.

“In view of the latest development, the government needs to focus on the construction of the road linking Kapit to Song and Sibu,” he said.

Nanta was reportedly furious when allocations for the Kapit-Sibu truck road was not included in the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

According to a source close to the state government, planners under Chief Minister Taib Mahmud were not in favour of the trunk road as it will “kill” Kapit, a logging town. Kapit is better accessed by a long speedboat ride and visitors inevitably must spend the night in the town.