Need to ensure adequate water supply
Posted on June 3, 2012, Sunday
IN drought-stricken Niger, a landlocked country in West Africa, school-age children ride donkeys miles out of town to fetch water with huge plastic jerrycans.
With the countryside running dry from low rainfall, the search for water is a constant struggle. And Niger’s young — mostly girls barely into their teens – are often sent out to look for distant wells which are frequently dry. Everybody is thirsty and desperate for water everyday.
Can such a scenario apply to Malaysia? Most of us think not. We are, after all, a land of many rivers and plentiful rainfall. But we should also remember if the high rate of wastage is not checked, there is every likelihood water security in the country will become exponentially fraught.
Despite having renewable water five times per head higher than in many regions of the world, many parts of Malaysia now face water shortage. And poor water management is the culprit, according to Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas.
“Obviously, the problem is due to unsustainable management of water resources rather than the quantity of water available for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses,” he told the recent Third Water and Environment Partnership in Asia International Forum on Water Environmental Governance.
He also pointed out that the management of water quality had become more critical – and the issue was expected to take on even greater importance as the population continued to grow.
In Selangor, water reserve levels are said to have dropped to critical levels and likely to worsen as demand increases.
Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin said for this reason, the federal government is standing by its decision to proceed with the Langat 2 treatment plant to resolve the state’s water crisis.
He assured that despite the stalemate over the project with the Selangor state government, implementation would go ahead.
Prioritising Langat 2 is a far-sighted move. Polemics aside, taking proactive measures to avert a potential disaster is certainly better than playing Russian roulette with an issue as crucial as ensuring adequate water supply for the people and country.
Sarawak – even with its abundant rivers and rainfall — is not immune to water shortage. Far-flung habitats frequently run dry during prolonged drought, necessitating water relief.
At the recent DUN sitting, Second Minister of Resource Management and Environment Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hassan warned of dry weather and drought hitting the state from this month till September when the average rainfall is expected to be between 20 and 40 per cent.
He said for Bintulu and Mukah, the forecast could be even more severe with rainfall expected to be 40 to 60 per cent below normal.
As the minister quite rightly pointed out, this kind of weather could trigger more forest fires, especially in peat areas, and close monitoring is necessary.
Besides fire risks, the possibility of the dry spell wreaking havoc on water supply in drought-prone areas should also be given the attention it deserves. Avoiding wastage and keeping close tabs on the supply situation is the right way to go.
How much water do we need for daily use?
According to a study by the Federation of Malaysian Consumers’ Association (Fomca), the average Malaysian needs only 80 litres a day, including three litres for drinking, to sustain a reasonable quality of life.
Its findings on wastage show almost 50 per cent of households rarely took action to fix leaks while 70 per cent did not have dual-flush systems which could reduce 30 to 60 per cent of water usage. And worse, 70 per cent of those surveyed are not likely to reduce home water usage over the next three years.
The widely-held notion is that water is an inexhaustible resource but a landmark UN Report has warned of an impending global water crisis due to surging population growth, climate change, reckless irrigation and chronic waste. While water sufficiency can determine prosperity and stability, lack of access to it helps drive poverty and deprivation and breeds the potential for unrest and conflict.
Although there are no immediate plans to raise our water tariffs despite escalating production costs, the status quo does not mean water should be used in a wasteful manner.
Prudence must be exercised even when there is no shortage to avoid wastage and save costs. While households must use water responsibly, the water authorities too must be proactive in carrying repairs, especially plugging leak so as not to drive water revenue down the drain.
Wastage can be prevented with sustainable water management and realistic pricing but ultimately, conservation is key to avoid wastage and ensure sufficient supply.