Of Rivers and Heart-ware

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Want to know why our rivers continue to be polluted despite all efforts to keep them clean? Here is a royal insight from Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah.

We have been focusing on hardware (science and technology) and software (policy, regulations and norms), with not enough attention to a critical element in the fight against river pollution: heart-ware.

“The health of our river ecosystem is a reflection of how much the hearts of our communities, from upstream to downstream, are connected to its conservation.” We could not have put it better.

Yes, the connection just isn’t there. Want the evidence? Again, a royal pick: the 2021 Environmental Quality Report. Of the 670 rivers monitored, 489 passed the clean water quality test.

The remaining rivers were either moderately polluted (158) or polluted (23). Some among us may say 73 per cent of clean rivers is a commendable percentage.

Not so quick, we say. Here are two reasons for saying so. One, only 670 rivers were monitored. The country has more.

Two, and more importantly, rivers are life-sustaining, or to put it in the words of Sultan Nazrin, who was speaking at a book launch, rivers are the primary source of fresh water, the very essence of life for humankind.

So what do we do to have a loving feeling for our rivers? Awaken the human soul to a sense of responsibility and foster genuine remorse for actions that harm the environment, is the heart-ware language of Sultan Nazrin.

He is right. Conservation requires connection and connection is not possible without compassion. As pointed out by the sultan, hardware and software can only do so much to keep our rivers alive.

For love to happen, we must put the people in the responsibility seat.

In 2010, China appointed a million or so “river chiefs” to keep an eye on polluters and pollution. The river chiefs were told that they would be held accountable for any lapse. But this is a drastic step.

Compassion can’t be forced, especially when the source of it is from the lump of flesh we call the heart. People must be ready, able and willing to establish the connection with the rivers. They will when the heart is.

Do not get us wrong. We aren’t saying that the China approach will never work here. Some recalcitrant hearts need such drastic policing.

To get the heart ready, able and willing isn’t going to be easy. But just because it is going to be a difficult task, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start.

But where do we begin? By taking knowledge — about the importance of rivers to all life forms on Earth — to the people. They must be told that the death of rivers may mean the death of the planet.

For us to live, rivers must live. To water quality and modelling expert Dr Zaki Zainudin, individual and community care are critical to river management.

Of late, this knowledge has come to be known as citizen science, thanks largely to the millennials and those born after them. “River” doesn’t just mean river to Zaki. It starts with drains and everything before into which the irresponsible many throw their garbage and what-have-you. So river care must also begin before a river becomes one. As Sultan Nazrin put it so well, river care must begin in the heart.

Source: NST Leader (27 September 2023)