Kg Ayer’s long drawn battle with rubbish

DESPITE many cleaning campaigns conducted by government and non- government agencies as well as the Kampong Ayer residents, floating rubbish still remains an eyesore at Brunei’s iconic water village.

A senior citizen from Kg Saba Darat B, Hj Matassan Kassim, reminisced the good old days when plastic bottles and plastic bags did not litter the waters.

“We used to always swim in the water as that was our method of taking a bath. We never had showers in our toilets. In the 1950s, there were only be glass bottles (and nobody threw them out as) we would take the initiative to collect and sell to local companies for extra income,” the 80-year-old said.

“It wasn’t until the 1980s when rubbish comprising mostly plastic bags and bottles really started showing on our waters,” he said.

Village head of Kg Lurong Sekuna Hj Ahmad Hj Bujang, suggested the more drastic approach of banning plastic bags.

“Back then we would carry our goods using paper bags which were biodegradable so we didn’t have the problem that we have today of plastic waste infesting our waters. If we could do it before, we could do it again,” the 70-year-old said.

Whose rubbish is it anyway?

“The reason why (rubbish) is here is because the current carries it towards our direction and the garbage mostly comes from residents on land,” said Hj Matassan.

He said that residents of Kg Ayer are not solely to blame for this ongoing issue.

The senior citizen suggested that authorities come up with a better and more effective solution when tackling the garbage issue.

Although the rubbish problem in Kg Ayer still persists, Hj Matassan acknowledged that awareness has significantly increased, slowly curbing the littering problem amongst Kg Ayer residents.

His observations were echoed by Kg Sungai Kebun village head Hj Marali Hj Matzin who noted the always littered parking lot located near the Kg Sungai Kebun.

“If you look at the parking lot located nearby Kg Sungai Kebun, the garbage is all over the place despite the provided rubbish bins and allocated dumpsite there,” Hj Marali said.

He said bins have been allocated outside of each housing area in Kg Ayer by the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation (JASTRe,) where collections are carried out by private garbage collecting companies through a tendering process by the government.

“You see, the facilities are already provided by the government but somehow you still see floating litter,” Hj Marali said.

“So how can it just be us (to blame)? We (villagers) even regularly conduct cleaning campaigns in collaboration with the Fire and Rescue Department.”

He said villagers from Kg Sungai Kebun hold cleaning campaigns three times a year. However, villagers’ efforts have been in vain as rubbish continues to infest the water with shrubs and tree roots acting as nets for incoming rubbish.

“Of course… I don’t completely disregard that some of our villagers are still littering. But some of the litter you see comes from inland,” he said.

The 57-year-old Sg Kebun village head suggested for more dumpsites to be provided for nearby villages on land so they do not resort to dumping some of their rubbish into the river.

“The thing is they (people living on land) have to pay for the services unlike us, where it is free. Perhaps if the government deducted the specified amount from people’s salaries there would be less of a problem,” he said, acknowledging that providing free services for everyone including those on land would incur large expenses for the government.

Hard-hitting reality

Upon visiting Kg Ayer, The Brunei Times noticed tourists were taking pictures of not just the beauty of Kg Ayer as they strolled along the walkways, they also stopped to take pictures of rubbish accumulated in the river.

A representative from local NGO Green Brunei – an organisation committed to preserving the environment – said that parts of the water village are geographically structured to suck in waste that comes from all places.

“There are many contributing factors. Even animals exacerbate the waste problem as they scavenge garbage bags and drag them away from waste disposal areas,” Firdaus Ismail said.

“In the past, residents of Kg Ayer would dispose of their waste by just throwing them out of their windows,” he said noting that the problem is improving.

He went on to say that only long term solution for the problem is to keep spreading the message and educating people on the damaging environmental impact careless littering has.

In a study conducted by Universiti Brunei Darussalam in 2009, Associate Professor Dr Muhd Khairul Anwar Abdurrahman Harry said that Kg Ayer rubbish could fill 50 million garbage bags, not including waste that had already sunk deep into the muddy river bed.

He said that removing the rubbish would be a very difficult task as many complex logistical problems are involved since a majority of the rubbish was not exactly accessible.

According to the study, most rubbish could only be accessed at low tide. Even at that time, a boat could not be used to move the rubbish.

To alleviate the problem, JASTRe launched a five-year project which began in 2006, to clean up Kg Ayer and the Brunei River.

The project, which was completed in 2012, included the deployment of boats with large nets to scoop up floating rubbish in the Brunei River.

Source: The Brunei Times