Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM), Kinabatangan River Basin, Sabah | WWF Malaysia

Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM), Kinabatangan River Basin, Sabah

Aerial view of the Kinabatangan river in
Aerial view of the Kinabatangan river in Sabah
© WWF-Malaysia/C. Prudente

Managing the Mighty Kinabatangan Basin

The Kinabatangan River, Sabah’s longest and largest river drains 23% of the state’s land area. This river passes through the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain, one of Malaysia’s most biologically diverse wetlands, on its 560 km journey from southwestern Sabah to the Sulu Sea. The floodplain houses some of the few surviving freshwater swamp forests and oxbow lakes in Southeast Asia.

The Kinabatangan basin covers 16,800 km2 of land that includes forests in its upper reaches to agricultural land, human settlement and conservation areas downstream. This catchment area faces a number of challenges including protection of water resources and water quality, prevention of water shortages, mitigation of flood, protection of fisheries resources, reduction of impacts in the downstream areas from upstream activities and sustaining livelihood of riverine communities.

Maintaining integrity of the Kinabatangan basin through integrated approach
Sustainability of the Kinabatangan River basin now and in future requires the approach of an Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) - the coordinated use and management of land, water and other natural resources and activities within a river basin. Through IRBM, various dimensions of a river basin and the inter-relationships between them can be dealt with holistically. An integrated approach is critical to address the needs and resolve conflicts between different sectors in the Kinabatangan basin, thereby ensuring its long-term integrity.

To date, two key tools for river basin management have been formulated for the Kinabatangan basin: the River Basin Information Management System (RB-IMS) and Integrated Catchment Management Plans (ICMPs). WWF-Malaysia collaborated with the state Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID), Sabah’s authority responsible for water resources management, to develop these tools via the Kinabatangan Partners for Wetlands project. In addition, institutional mechanisms in the form of inter-agency committees have been established to deal with basin management issues.

Although conditions that enable IRBM implementation in the Kinabatangan basin are already in place, the greater challenge is to ensure that these mechanisms function fully and to translate the knowledge and tools on river basin management into effective action on the ground. Only then will the Kinabatangan basin be managed in a truly integrated way.

Key Contacts

Darrel Webber
Project Manager
(Kinabatangan – Borneo Programme)
Tel: +6088 262 420

Daria Mathew
Freshwater Coordinator
Tel: +603 7803 3772
Ext 6418