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Hunting for water using space tech
Published on: Sunday, April 15, 2018

By Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius Tangau
In the highlands of Kiulu are Kampung Bungalio and Kotunuan Baru, themselves surrounded by undulating hills.

The combined population of 500 residents here had been steadily relying on gravity water supply, till the 2015 Ranau earthquake.

The quake had affected the raw water source of Mount Kinabalu, causing inadequate water supply in surrounding areas. Water was a scarcity, especially during dry spells. Worse, during heavy downpours, silt pollution would be found in their gravitational water dam system.

It was a wake-up call for residents of Kampung Bungalio to look for alternatives for water source intake.

The head of village development and security committee, Suffian Kundu, raised this matter to his state assemblyman YB Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, who eventually brought it to the Federal Government through me.

Since 2013, Mosti through Agensi Remote Sensing Malaysia (ARSM) has been collaborating with the Mineral and Geoscience Department Malaysia (JMG) in identifying potential areas of groundwater. Groundwater is the water underneath the Earth’s surface, filling the spaces between grains of soil and rock.

According to the National Groundwater Association, groundwater supplies 25 to 40 per cent of all drinking water globally. It is the main source of freshwater and about 60 per cent is used to irrigate crops.

The conventional method of identifying potential groundwater areas is costly, time-consuming and labour-intensive. Water managers would have to collect the geographical, geological, hydrogeological and geophysical information of the site and manually interpret the data to determine its potential.

However through remote sensing satellite images, the geological structures of a potential groundwater site can be easily assessed. ARSM’s capabilities in remote sensing including Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technology and Global Position System (GPS) applications have greatly enhanced JMG’s groundwater exploration expertise.

Works to drill a tube well in Kampung Bungalio started last September, after its potentiality and suitability to siphon groundwater were verified by ARSM and JMG. By end of November sparkling aqua pura could be seen gushing out from the newly installed tube well system. The villagers were overjoyed.

The district health office had collected the groundwater samples and sent them to the Department of Chemistry Malaysia, an agency under Mosti, to ensure that it complies with the National Standard for Drinking Water Quality.

Each water sample is tested for almost 120 parameters (substances)!

Residents in Kampung Bungalio are very blessed that the water they draw from the new tube well has been certified to be safe for direct consumption. To optimise usage, the tube well system has been strategically located at the village’s community hall, channelling water to places of worship, the local school and cyber centre.

The 113-metre drilling and building cost of the tube well system cost Mosti RM 200,000.

Water supply would be free-of-charge for the beneficiaries, although it would cost a minimal electricity fee.

In Peninsular Malaysia, six of such tube well systems have been developed in four areas in Kedah namely Kuala Pai, Padang Terap, Kampung Berjaya and Gurun, and another two in Pahang – Padang Tengku and Lipis.

5,000 residents in these areas have utilised almost 13 million litres of groundwater from the system.

In Sabah, 1,000 residents of Kampung Samparita in Kota Marudu are also enjoying this facility.

To ensure that the newly inaugurated water supply to the households of Kampung Bungalio and Kotunuan Baru remains undisrupted, residents took a proactive measure to form a committee overseeing its maintenance.

As a People’s Representative with 200 villages under my purview, one of the most common issues raised to me has been the challenges in delivering treated water to households in the outbacks. Some barriers are water treatment plants often located too far away from users, low water catchment areas and precarious climatic patterns such as droughts and floods.

Moreover water tank trunks that deliver clean water to affected or problematic areas are just a temporary solution. It is costly and often logistically challenging.

Therefore Kampung Bungalio is a success story of problem-solving through science and technology, and innovation inclusiveness. To me, success in science, technology and innovation is measured by the practical economic and social problems it could solve, and if all walks of life and all groups of the community would benefit from it.

Remote sensing is an application of space technology, and who could immediately relate a space technology to hunting for water sources?

Although the water issue has been resolved for Bungalio, in the long-term, we would have to manage our groundwater resources effectively, as highlighted by the National Integrated Water Resources Management Plan by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia. This precious commodity is not without limit and has to be used sustainably.

Consequently in conjunction with the installation of the tube well system, I have proposed for an educational program on water to be carried out at the local school, SK Kampung Bungalio. We need to instil into our young ones an appreciation for Earth’s limited resources. But for now, rest assured that these 115 pupils would be able to enjoy spouts of refreshing and sweet groundwater from the brand new tube well.

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