Malaysia — Kuching is facing water-rationing as the current drought in Sarawak has made the situation critical, said Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam.
The water shortage, triggered by the El Nino phenomenon, initially affected the rural areas and in Sarikei and Mukah Divisions in central Sarawak for a week, but the problem has now spread to southern Sarawak, hitting the state capital as well, he said Sunday.
Kuching City has a population of about 500,000.
More than 100,000 statewide are in dire need of water now. It has become very dry. The most critical areas that need attention are Sarikei and Kuching divisions.
Water-rationing has already started in Sarikei. We (state government) will carry out water-rationing in Kuching as well.
The water-shortage situation is critical, even more critical than the forest-fires and haze situation, he said in an interview.
Dr Chan, who is State Disaster Relief Committee chairman, said there was no choice but to impose water-rationing even in the state capital as the water-levels in the rivers and dams that supply fresh-water to the treatment plants had dwindled to alarmingly-low levels.
Asked about cloud-seeding, he said the aircraft were on standby awaiting rain clouds.
All the rain clouds have been blown away by the typhoon that is raging in the South China Sea near China. I hope there is a change in the wind direction by Monday and more clouds form.
Cloud-seeding will not work under very low cloud density. For now, we must conserve as much as possible the remaining water that we have in the dams and rivers.
That is why water-rationing is the only option until we can induce some rain, he stressed.
Dr Chan, who is also State Industrial Development Minister and State Agriculture Modernisation Minister, said the forest fires and peat fires raging in northern Sarawak are making the dry situation even worse.
The fires are spreading fast due to the lack of water inside the ground. They are burning even underneath the soil, making it extremely difficult to put out, he said.
Dr Chan, who visited the fire sites near the Sarawak-Brunei trans boundary bridge, said the fires had worsened an already difficult situation for the people and the state authorities.
He appealed to all to stop all forms of open-burning, adding that without public help, the fires, haze and water-shortage problems would only deteriorate further.
More than 3,000 hectares of forests and peatland had already been ravaged by fires near the border, with another 1,000 hectares still on fire.
These fires are causing massive air pollution and worsening the haze from Indonesia.