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W.A.T.E.R Project: Rehabilitation of Sungei Way
Dr. K. Kalithasan
River Care Co-ordinator, Global Environment Centre Malaysia
Dr K. Kalithasan has over 10 years of experience in the areas of integrated river basin management, river restoration and rehabilitation in Malaysia. He has been with the W.A.T.E.R Project since 2007.
"The W.A.T.E.R model has been successful, transforming the river from class IV-V (extremely polluted) to Class III (suitable for living organisms)," he says.
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The real rehabilitation work, says Global Environment Centre Malaysia’s K. Kalithasan, is the main challenge.

“Being involved in beautification is good, but we need to move beyond that for actual rehabilitation, if we want to have positive and sustainable impact.”

“The W.A.T.E.R. model has been quite successful, transforming the river from Class IV-V (extremely polluted) to Class III (suitable for living organisms) and we have used our experience to come up with a model for river management. This is first time in the country that a corporate has been involved extensively in river rehabilitation.”

Corporates need to commit resources and effort into key environmental rehabilitation efforts beyond cosmetics and beautification if they want to see lasting results from their corporate social responsibility initiatives, says Dr. K. Kalithasan, the co-ordinator of Global Environment Centre (GEC) Malaysia's River Care programme.

“Previously, the focus of corporates has been on beautification, such as tree planting and clean up, but there was no actual rehabilitation done. This is another good example of a government-private-public partnership.”

GEC is a non-profit organisation established in 1998 in Malaysia. Its environmental activities in Malaysia are focused on four key pillars, one of which is the River Care programme. The organisation was appointed the key implementer of the Sungei Way rehabilitation project and helped design the rehabilitation model.

The hardest part of the project, he adds, has been changing mind-sets of community residents who treated the river as though it were a monsoon drain for years.

“When we proposed this idea to our stakeholders, literally no one believed it could be done. We had to get the people involved, change mind-sets, and get people to treat the river as a river, not a drain,” he says. “There was a lot of rejection at the beginning stage from all stakeholders including the public.”

But through the project team's efforts, attitudes started changing so much so that the water quality in Sungei Way have improved from Class 5 to Class 3, and saw the re-introduction of animal life.

“There are two key lessons here. First, people have to understand that everyone has a role to play and that the drains in our own backyards are an important part of river basin,” Dr. Kalithasan says.

“Secondly, corporate partners, if they really want to help, they must commit to do the “real” project; beautification is good but we need to move on beyond that for actual rehabilitation if we are to really make an impact for the country.”
From Dr. K. Kalithasan's Camera