Prawns, crabs and fish caught from Sungai Sarawak can be consumed at the public's own risk as the river is among the most polluted in the state.

State Natural Resources and Environmental Board (NREB) controller Peter Sawal, however, did not press the panic button yet as there are many local fishermen whose livelihood still depended on the river.

"We know that the river, especially near Bintawa Industrial Area, has higher level of metal content compared with other parts of the river, between Batu Kitang and Kuching Barrage.

"However, we do not want to cause panic among the the people over the situation."

According to a book entitled A Field Guide to the Fishes of Kuching Rivers: Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, written by Katherine Atack, a student of University Malaysia Sarawak, there are more than 100 species of freshwater fish thriving in the Sarawak River.

Sawal pointed out that even though fish, prawns and crabs thrived in the river, that did not mean that they were safe for consumption.

A check with the Malaysian Fishery Development Board, State Veterinary Department, the Agriculture Department and the Health Department revealed that no government agency have been designated to ensure the safety of the fish, crabs and prawns of the river for consumption.

According to Sawal, what made the aquatic lives of Sungai Sarawak hazardous for human consumption was the intake of black and grey water from the residents of Kuching.

"What made matters worse is that four of Sungai Sarawak's tributaries, such as Sungai Maong, Sungai Bintangor, Sungai Padungan and Sungai Sekama are highly polluted."

According to NREB's Environmental Quality Reports 2008, the monitoring results indicated that the rivers were all polluted by coliform bacteria (FCC and TCC).

All these rivers were located in the vicinity of, or flowed through, the urban centres of Kuching city.

Captain Goh Chin Guan, controller of the Sarawak River Barrage, concurred that the toxicity of the river lately had been very dirty as the water from the source upstream carried with it all the rubbish and waste.

Goh said the frequency of flashing the river water above the barrage would depend on tides, rain and drought.

Sawal said that despite the bleak picture, Kuching could brace for a better waste water management system which is in the pipeline with the soon-to-be-constructed Kuching City waste Management system.

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