River Rangers: The True Power Rangers of Sabah
Sounds familiar? You might know this catchphrase from a 90s television show. Similar to the Power Rangers, the River Rangers have almost the same goal – to save and protect earth – but instead of fighting monsters and aliens, they protect the rivers by actively taking care of them.
Similar to the live action superhero series, River Rangers are dedicated people from the local communities in Sabah who drive their own river conservation efforts.
The River Ranger programme was started by WWF-Malaysia in December 2015 and initially focussed on communities in Upper Sugut, Ranau. Upper Sugut is one of the key river basins in Sabah where WWF-Malaysia promotes and supports improved management of freshwater habitats by training the local communities to become proactive conservationists.
From trainee to trainer
With funding from HSBC Bank Malaysia Berhad, WWF-Malaysia collaborated with the Community Development Unit of Ranau’s district office to train 16 residents living in the Upper Sugut River basin and its tributaries as River Rangers. Since becoming the River Rangers of Ranau, the locals have formed a club called the Kelab Pemantau Sungai Daerah Ranau. Their first ever activity was a river monitoring programme for the villagers of Kampung Perancangan and Kampung Togis in January 2016.
Out of the 16 River Rangers of Ranau, Zaini Sapin, Japli Sapin, Muslimah Sapin, and Kanisah Asin have become trainers to a new batch of River Rangers in Inanam. They are tasked with training and guiding new rangers on practical skills such as pollution monitoring and mapping, and simple ways to ensure river cleanliness.
Inanam’s River Ranger recruitment
About 13.4 kilometres long, the Inanam catchment is located in the north-east of Kota Kinabalu and is one of the key river basins in the state. A catchment is an area where water is collected by the natural landscape, such as when rainwater is captured by mountains and hills, which eventually flows to rivers, lake and ocean. There are three major rivers in this catchment; namely, Inanam, Likas and Darau Rivers. These rivers are greatly affected by unsustainable development and polluted by drainage and industrial waste.
According to the Department of Environment Sabah, there were 293 potential sources of water pollution along the riverbanks of Inanam River as of August 2017. The sources of this pollution were traceable to small and medium-sized industries and residential areas in Inanam. Indiscriminate dumping of waste is the main reason why the Inanam River remains polluted and if this continues, the river may never recover. Recognising the severity of this issue, WWF-Malaysia collaborated with the Kota Kinabalu City Hall to expand the River Ranger programme to Inanam with funding from HSBC Bank Malaysia Berhad.
From 28 to 29 October 2017, local communities living close to the Inanam River were invited to participate in their first River Ranger workshop. Just like in Ranau, this workshop was held to recruit River Rangers from the Inanam community to drive river conservation efforts in their area. Organised by the City Hall and WWF-Malaysia, the workshop was also attended by representatives from the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID), Community Development Unit of Inanam (UPPM) and Sabah Environmental Protection Department (EPD).
Kota Kinabalu Mayor Datuk Yeo Boon Hai said, “We need to realise that rivers are not dumping sites, as disposing waste unsustainably negatively impacts the environment and we must join hands in looking after our rivers.” He further stressed that instilling love and care for our rivers is the long lasting solution to the problem. He added, “Kota Kinabalu City Hall fully supports the River Ranger programme in Inanam as it is in line with our vision to make Kota Kinabalu a clean, green and liveable city by 2020.”
On Day 1 of the workshop, participants were introduced to the River Ranger programme and the environmental issues affecting rivers, water resource management, and the freshwater ecosystems, which included biodiversity, functions, values, and benefits to people.
During the fieldwork on Day 2, participants learned three techniques of river monitoring:
Physical observation, which involves the use of five human senses (smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste) to determine the health of the river.
Chemical testing, to determine levels of pH, dissolved oxygen and other elements in the water.
Biological observation, which involves analysing the number and type of species that exist in the monitored river.
An Inanam resident, Fatimah Munsin, is excited to be a River Ranger and is keen to apply her newly gained knowledge through river monitoring activities in her village. The new River Rangers will be conducting these monthly activities and submitting the reports to WWF-Malaysia.
“I would also like to share my River Ranger knowledge with other communities, including those beyond Inanam,” Fatimah added. “Now that we have the River Ranger programme in Inanam, more people, especially our youths, will see why we need to protect our rivers.”
The two-day event concluded with a discussion on challenges faced by the new River Rangers in their villages, as well as their future initiatives. Inspired by this workshop, the River Rangers also took the initiative to set up a River Cleanliness Monitoring Committee for the conservation of Inanam River.
According to Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive Director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia, “The River Ranger programme enhances the appreciation of rivers and reminds us that clean water is very valuable and is a very limited natural resource. Our past experience with the River Rangers of Ranau has taught us that the programme is a powerful community-driven initiative and a great example of working together to make everything possible.”
If you are interested to start a River Ranger programme for your community, please contact Brian Richard, WWF-Malaysia’s Communications Officer of the Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Programme, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +60 88 262 420 ext. 121.
Water is one of the most important resource yet often overlooked. Most of the water we see, such as the ocean, is salt water and not suitable for us humans to use, much even drink. Only 3% of earth’s water is freshwater and all of which distributed in frozen glaciers and ice caps, below the ground and in rivers and lakes.
Only 1% is accessible for our use. However, 70% of that 1% is used for growing food and other human population needs. As the demand for food increases, the availability of water for human use also decreases. Water is so intensively used that two-thirds of the world’s population is projected to face water scarcity by 2025.
Although Malaysia receives abundant rainfall, averaging 3,000mm annually, about 97% of our raw water supply is used for agricultural, domestic and industrial needs, which are derived from surface water sources, primarily rivers.
For more information, please contact:
Communications Officer, Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Programme, WWF-Malaysia
Tel: +60 88 262 420 Ext. 121