Sabah's water supply could drop to critical levels amid drought

Resources in most districts sufficient for another 3 months: Minister

Mr Pairin (in grey) and government officers visiting a water treatment plant in Penampang, Sabah, on Thursday.
Mr Pairin (in grey) and government officers visiting a water treatment plant in Penampang, Sabah, on Thursday.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KOTA KINABALU • Water supply in sprawling Sabah will reach critical levels if the drought that has hit Malaysia due to the El Nino phenomenon lasts beyond July, with some areas already affected by dry weather.

Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan said water resources in most districts are sufficient for another three months.

"Taps are running dry at dozens of villages dependent on the gravity feed system from springs or streams that have dried up. We are getting them help," he said.

The heatwave and dry weather hit parts of Indochina and Malaysia several weeks ago, with schools in Kedah and Perlis states closed for two days from Tuesday as temperatures in northern Malaysia soared to 38 or 39 deg C in the past week.

Tan Sri Pairin, who is also Sabah's Infrastructure Development Minister, said the water department has deployed its water tankers as well as privately owned ones to supply water to some villages.

Among the worst hit are the communities in Sabah's northern-most Banggi island off Kudat, and Sebatik island in the east coast. Mr Pairin said the department is prepared to send water by barge to both islands.

He said other measures being considered include cloud seeding, which he said is expensive and with an unpredictable success rate.

Mr Pairin said Sabah is also looking into whether contaminated water at a massive Mamut copper mine open pit in Ranau - not far from Mount Kinabalu - could be treated and used. "There's about 20.6 million cubic metres of water in that pit. That's a lot of water," he said. "Now, if we can only find a way to treat that acidic water."

Over the long term, he said, construction of a RM400 million (S$136 million) water supply dam and reservoir would begin in the Tawau district on the east coast later this year.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun said separately that the Sabah Cabinet has discussed the state's emergency preparedness.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'Sabah's water supply could drop to critical levels amid drought'. Subscribe