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The long trek for water in Kedah interior

In Baling, a rural district in Kedah bordering Perak and Thailand, pipe water is patchy at best, and many residents are forced to depend on rivers for their water supply.

Djohan Shahrin
3 minute read
Baling, located 106km from the capital of Alor Setar in Kedah, is the second biggest district in the state.
Baling, located 106km from the capital of Alor Setar in Kedah, is the second biggest district in the state.
Water woes are nothing new for many who live there, like Rahimah Yaakub, who carefully descends a makeshift stairway leading to the shallow river behind her house in order to collect some water.
With no steady water supply in her village, Mak Sue from Kampung Bukit Sebelah also heads to the river in order to wash her clothes.
Once she finishes her laundry, she heads back to her house with her wet clothes in one pail and some water in another.
The alternative to hauling river water in buckets is to set up a pipeline which, with the help of a machine, carries water to individual homes in the village.
Shafie Saad, 74, checks the area around his pipeline after realigning it to reach across the dried-up banks and to the water beyond.
In addition to carrying much-needed water to their homes, these pipelines keep the villagers’ vegetable gardens green and thriving.
Even pots and dishes must sometimes be carried to the river for washing as water supply to the villages in Baling is unreliable.
But the villagers cannot always depend on the rivers for water as logging activities in the district often cause pollution. They also damage the forest ecosystem, causing streams to dry up when disturbed earth is carried to the rivers during the rainy season.
The lack of stable water supply also causes problems for shops such as Warung Kak Pah in Kampung Iboi. Here, food sellers complain of daily water cuts from 2pm until midnight.
Zaini Harun, who works at Warung Kak Pah, must scramble to ensure enough water is on hand just to wash her plates.
Every house in Kampung Iboi has two taps: one from state water utility company Syarikat Air Darul Aman and the other from the local committee which manages the villagers’ own pipelines from a former hydrolics dam owned by Tenaga Nasional Bhd.
Sometimes, the local pipelines are damaged. Mokhtar Mohd Piah, 57, carries a roll of rubber hose to mend some of the problem spots in Kampung Iboi.
He then gets to work fixing any spoilt pipes or water pumps.
Members of the local water committee make regular trips through the forest to clean the former dam from which villagers get their water. Each trip takes about 20 minutes by motorcycle, and is far from an easy ride.
When they get there, they buckle down for some hard work. They make these trips twice a week in order to ensure that their village receives as clean a supply of water as possible.
They clean out any leaves floating on the water before releasing the collected water.
Often this involves wading to the water catchment point to ensure that their makeshift filter is not clogged up by leaves or branches.
They also make sure that the waterway from the river to the dam is clear.
It’s also important to check the main pipes at the water storage shed about 1km away from the dam itself.
Villagers in Baling also face a myriad of other problems brought on by illegal exploration activities, which threaten even their limestone hills.
Dust from the explosives used to tunnel through the hills can be blown over a 3km radius, putting the health of many villagers at stake and polluting the rivers on which they depend for water.
Villagers at Padang Che Mas, near Gunung Pulai, are worried about a new quarry project which they say was approved despite the area being gazetted as a forest reserve.
Two of them walk past the equipment they say is used to drill holes through the limestone hills in which explosives are placed.
They survey the damage done to the hills above their village.
Some of the holes drilled into the hills are nearly wide enough for a man to fit through.
They are worried about their forest, which they fear will not survive the onslaught of development.