SIBU: Scholars and professionals from both Malaysia and China have gathered here to brainstorm and discuss the impact large rivers have on human civilisation.
The inaugural Henan – Sarawak Great River Cultural Conference is jointly organised by the University of Technology Sarawak (UTS), North China University of Water Conservancy and Electric Power, UTS’s Confucius Institute and the Sarawak Chinese Cultural Association.
At the opening ceremony for the conference in UTC ‘s campus here today (April 23), the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to China, Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing said the conference will also shine the spotlight on interactions by the Chinese civilisation, and its significance to strengthening cultural and educational exchanges between Malaysia and China.
“Rivers are the lifeblood of the earth and the cradles that nurture human civilisations.
“The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers in China gave birth to the Chinese civilisation, while the winding Rejang River reflects the unique charm of Sarawak, and sparked the boom and prosperity of Sibu.
“Rivers play a large and catalysing role in the evolution of towns and urban centres.
“Because the descendants of Foochows saw the potential of Sibu being located on the confluence of rivers in the middle and lower reaches of the Rejang River, blessed with fertile land and a pleasant climate, they chose to settle on both sides of the Rejang from the beginning.
“Similarly, the fresh water nature of the river also played well to the shipbuilding industry and helped it flourish at the time. Sibu was indeed full of vitality and prosperity,” he stated.
However, he said along its blessings, there are also dangers like the rise of the Rejang River having led to frequent flooding with increasing levels of siltation.
Unfortunately, he said the shallowing of the riverbeds of the Rejang and Igan rivers have caused much inconvenience and losses to the lives of the people there, and indirectly resulted in terms of population decline and outflow of resources.
Gradually, much opportunity for growth and development too has been lost, said Tiong who is also Dudong assemblyman.
He hoped that the conference participants share their experiences and insights into water conservancy projects and findings about how to effectively alleviate the failures of flood mitigation with a view to tackle frequent flooding in Sibu.
“In this matter, I have always advocated for reports on each river from time to time and to establish an information system for flood mitigation facilities in Sibu to improve their management and early warning capabilities.
“Through this system, we will be able to have a clear assessment of riverbed siltation issues to come up with effective countermeasures instead of relying on mere pumping stations or retention ponds.
“We should do this instead of passively waiting for flood response parties to carry out their rescue work, assist victims, and then rebuild the disaster-hit areas and other measures. After so many years, this passive approach is undoubtedly a drain on the taxpayer’s money and public resources, ” he pointed out.
Tiong, who is also Bintulu Member of Parliament argued that only a water control policy to meet modern demands could realise a harmonious co-existence and steady progress between human civilisation and nature.
Therefore, he said while planning to implement large and small development plans in an area, whether it is for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes, careful calculations and planning should be thought out to create a flood mitigation system adapted to the local conditions.
This should include reserving land and spaces for the optimal use of drainage which conforms to the terrain, along with regular maintenance schedules and monitoring, he said, adding the importance of flood drainage and water control to reap its full benefits should not be ignored or downplayed.
“Water can both carry a boat or capsize it. We owe much to the natural advantages that the Rejang has given us, to Sibu. It has supported our civilisation’s development and the livelihood of our people for a long time.
“But now Sarawak’s ‘mother river’ is strained by the excessive development and lack of proper management we have let her endure. She is losing her important rainwater reservoir function.
“It is time for us to think about what went wrong and start turning the tide. We must begin to mitigate the water flow between the rivers and restore the riverbed’s capacity to achieve the long term goal of water management,” he pointed out.
Tiong hoped academic and professional institutions such as the UTS could open the doors that lead to better international scientific research cooperation, learn from the achievements of many other countries in the field of water conservancy and promote more technology transfer and knowledge sharing.
At the same time, through these collaborations, can expect to see more high-quality education resources for Sarawakian students, and cultivate more talents in the water conservation engineering field for the state, he said.
“This is included in my previous discussion with our Prime Minister to welcome more local universities such as UTS and others to participate in the preliminary study on the Sarawak rivers.
“I hope that students can apply this knowledge and give back to their hometowns to promote more vigorous, sustainable development,” Tiong added.
Among those present at the event were UTC’s Vice Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Khairuddin Ab Hamid, Chairman of Sarawak Chinese Cultural Association Albert Lau Pek Kii, Chairman of the Sarawak United Association of Private Chinese Secondary School of Management, Temenggong Datuk Vincent Lau Lee Ming and Chairman of Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce, Sarawak, Datuk Lau Nai Hoh.