Reimagining Sungai Bunus

Kuala Lumpur City Hall management executive director Datuk Hj Mohd Najib b Hj Mohd (in blue) planting trees to commemorate the second MoU signing along with the other attendees at the event. Photograph courtesy of DBKL.

Sungai Bunus is the only river that starts and ends in Kuala Lumpur. It takes its waters from Sungai Peran and Sungai Ayer Panas, before eventually draining into Sungai Klang near Masjid Jamek. As with most rivers in the city centre, its banks are populated by high density residental areas and its waters heavily polluted. Today, the river is in the midst of a major clean up and facelift effort under the River of Life (ROL) project, but it can’t possibly work without the involvement of the people around it.

“The number one pollution source of Sungai Bunus is organic waste; food waste from restaurants, chemical waste from workshops and plastic pollution. It’s really bad,” Yasmin bt Rasyid, chairman of the Sungai Bunus Phase 2 River of Life (ROL) LA21 working committee, said.The problem lies in lack of willpower to do anything about it, especially with the people living around the river itself. This is what the LA21 seeks to address. The working committee Yasmin leads is tasked with kickstarting and driving community led projects, the most important one being the creation of the Sungai Bunus Recreational Park. The vision behind the initiative is to transform an otherwise unused space into a multi-purpose one that’s acessible to all.

Attendees of the second MoU signing taking a look around the Kampung Boyan Pond project after the tree planting activity. Photograph courtesy of DBKL.

“To move forward and build sustainable cities, the private industry, communities and the local government must be working together, if you only have the private industry and communities pushing for change, but on the higher level, policies and enforcement are not done accordingly, we will hit a ceiling and our efforts would still be in vain,” she said.

When the working committee was formed in 2014, it was joined by 14 organisations and private companies, and recently another 10, namely developers, community clubs and business cooperatives, have come onboard. Together, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in full view of the river itself and pledged support to making the vision of a clean, healthy river a reality. At the end of the event they planted young trees as a show of long-term commitment towards the recreational park project.

The second MoU signees taking a commemorative photo with Kuala Lumpur City Hall management executive director Datuk Hj Mohd Najib b Hj Mohd (in blue), Department of Irrigation and Drainage Kuala Lumpur director Bibi Zarina bt Che Omar (in purple) and Yasmin (front, left). Photograph courtesy of DBKL.

“What we see here is but a small portion of the entire Sungai Bunus. After today, we will have planted more than 100 trees but we should not think this is the end of it because it is not enough. This is just the start,” the enthusiastic Yasmin said during her speech at the MoU signing.

The MoU signing was a simple one but there was plenty of optimism in the air, and a sense of hope for the project to take flight and even become a framework for other like-spirited communities seeking to rehabilitate their rivers.

Yasmin recognises that the main challenge is education. Communities need to change their mindset of what the river means to them; a river should never be a abused as a rubbish dumping site, but be protected and treasured as a potential source of food, clean water and a recreational space for everyone.

This is a vision that’s shared across the board, including the local authorities.

“My wife and I have cycled along the river but we wouldn’t get very far along it. It’s a good track and it would be nice to see it extended all the way to this park and people can cycle along the entire river,” enthused City Hall’s management executive director Datuk Hj Mohd Najib b Hj Mohd. A self confessed cycling kaki, he quickly hopped on a bicycle for a quick tour of the area.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall management executive director Datuk Hj Mohd Najib b Hj Mohd (in blue) and Department of Irrigation and Drainage Kuala Lumpur director Bibi Zarina bt Che Omar (in purple) along with the new MoU signees taking a look around the Kampung Boyan Pond project. Photograph courtesy of DBKL.

One of the new MoU signees, Empire Green Industres Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of EcoClean Technology Sdn Bhd, hopes to pique the interest of people to return to the riverside by encouraging them to pick up vertical farming along it.

“We hope to see communities – any communities really such as schools, restaurants, interest groups – adopt plots of land here to carry out vertical farming. It isn’t cheap but this is where the private sector and working partners can come in and do their part by paying for the system which will then be used and maintained by these communities,” its executive director Jay Achamby said.

He added that vertical farming is meant to produce the highest plant yield at the lowest land usage. Jay hopes the promise of sustainable and very visible returns in the form of fresh produce will entice people to try something they never knew was possible in an urban environment.

It won’t be easy. There will always be people who are supportive and those who choose to remain silent with their hands behind their backs. But with the right approach, things can change. Thus far, small strides have been made and she sees the gathering of the right partners, and their commitment to come onboard as one of the key turning points for the project.

“As volunteers, our biggest commitment is our time and effort. Majority of us have jobs and other commitments but yet we have a strong core group. I hope the interest level and passion will not reduce,” she said.

In her own words, “This is not a task solely for City Hall or JPS to do. We can’t expect them to be doing everything. If it is for the people, the initiative should be with the people.”. A recreational park isn’t a park without trees and the LA21 has made the right step forward with the planting of trees. As a wise person once wrote: “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”