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22 March, 2021

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (FOMCA)
Water and Energy Consumers Association of Malaysia (WECAM)
Forum Air Malaysia (FAM)

Celebrating World Water Day 2021 – Valuing Water

On 22 March, 2021, World Water Day will be celebrated in an online event throughout the world due to new social norms to curb Covid-19 pandemic. The World Water Day celebrates water and raises awareness of the global water crisis, and a core focus of the observance is to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.

The theme of World Water Day 2021 is valuing water. The value of water is about much more than its price – water has enormous and complex value for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment. If we overlook any of these values, we risk mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource. SDG 6 is to ensure water and sanitation for all. Without a comprehensive understanding of water’s true, multidimensional value, we will be unable to safeguard this critical resource for the benefit of everyone.

Though Malaysia is blessed with abundant water resources, the country is experiencing an alarming increase in demand for water supply in recent years. Many seem to take this natural resource for granted, while often having the misconception that supplying clean water would be cheap and easy.

Demand for the water is higher nowadays. There are several contributory factors such as increased human population, which now stands at 7 billion, uncontrolled developments, industrial and agricultural expansion. Currently world water supply is inadequate, deteriorating in quality and low flow of surface water. The greed for money is causing water pollution and quality deterioration. As a result, water has reached its carrying capacity, where water has reached its limits in balancing the pollution and negative treatment it receives.

The lack of awareness, unsustainable usage and mismanagement of water gives direct impacts towards the ecology and environment, and indirectly towards human health. These impacts give long-term effect or irreversible damage permanently.

Apart from the negative effects of urbanisation, water scarcity is also due to limited water management capacity and unorganized management. It is also caused by poor or no communication between users. As a result, uncontrolled releases of pollutants and unsustainable usage create environmental and human health problems. Some of these contaminations are irreversible and may cause death. Rivers have been used to the maximum and polluted, making it impossible for daily basic needs.

A catchment is an area where water is collected by the natural landscape. Healthy catchments help to protect our rivers, dams and groundwater environments and provides our community with:
• Clean drinking water
• Natural areas for recreation
• Habitat for plants and animals
• Healthy vegetation and waterways
• Reliable and clean water for stock and irrigation
• Opportunities for sustainable agriculture and industry

Logging will expose the land and rain splash erosion and surface erosion will wash sediments into the rivers, causing water pollution and the shallowing of river beds. Logging activities in water catchment areas likes Ulu Muda Forest in Sik, Merapoh Forest in Kuala Lipis and Bukit Ulu Sat, Bukit Tapong in Pasir Puteh has polluted the river and threatened the water supply as well as wildlife species.

Uncontrolled logging could hurt the efficacy of water catchments and jeopardise the economies of affected areas. Besides, the destruction of watershed areas will result in more flash flood and massive flood. Deforestation plays many roles in the flooding equation because trees prevent sediment runoffs and hold more water. The release of sediment due to deforestation has a bigger impact on floods.

The states government’s water politics approach could be backfiring now, with not only residents but businesses, too, suffering from inept water planning, management and control in many states. The policy makers must realise that water is a scarce resource. It needs a proper long-term plan to manage the water resources to avoid a potential crisis. Rakyat are increasingly less impressed with all the state government’s track record when it comes to water management. They want to see uninterrupted supply of clean and treated water, and are not bothered about the politics of it.

In September 2020, more than a million households in Malaysia’s densely populated Klang Valley suffered extended water cuts after illegal chemical dumping debilitated the region’s aging water purification systems. In the midst of the pandemic, residents donned masks and lined up to fill buckets with water. A month later, before courts could identify and charge the culprits responsible for the September incident, a similar chemical dumping again left more than a million homes without water for days.

It kept on happening, leading a groundswell of citizens calling for stronger enforcement against industrial polluters, and for reforms that could prevent water cuts from becoming the new normal. As pollution increasingly seeps into Malaysians’ daily lives, this surge of angry consumers is amplifying a call long made by civil society organizations that have demanded better environmental stewardship and heftier fines for violators.

Climate change also affects the complexity of water treatment. Climate change has altered the availability, quantity and quality of global water supply and cycle. Some of its effects include longer drought period and heavier than usual rainfall. The impact of climate change on water resources alter the availability, quantity and quality of the water supply cycle. These refer to water demand, water resources and the water infrastructure. Climate change also modifies the water demand pattern. For instance, in the dry season, households tend to consume more water for planting and gardening.

Malaysia also faces the problem of high non-revenue water (NRW). This is one of the main causes of water shortage. In 2016, the NRW ratio was at 35.2 per cent. Perlis recorded the highest at 60.7 per cent, while the other states that recorded more than 40 per cent were Sabah (52 per cent), Kelantan (49.4 per cent), Pahang (47.9 per cent) and Kedah (46.7 per cent). Mostly, the loss of water occur as a result of pipe leakage and water theft. Household and commercial water users can and should play an active role by reporting the problem to the authorities. Problems such pipe leakage or burst pipe could be resolved sooner if we reported the cases.

The United Nations set the daily water requirement at 165 litres per person every day. Based on statistics from National Water Services Commission (SPAN), Malaysian Consumes an average of 201 litres of water per person per day, which is equivalent to 134 bottles (1.5 litre capacity each). Malaysian average daily per capita consumption is higher than recommended by The United Nations. Awareness needs to be created so that public would know the importance of our water source and the negative impact if we keep on wasting and polluting it.

The government aims to reduce water consumption to 180 litres per person per day by 2025, said Environment and Water Minister Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man. He said that this was because the high water consumption of Malaysians, at 219 litres per person, daily, compared with the recommended rate of 160 litres per day. The awareness level among Malaysians plays an important role in reducing water consumption because they (the people) currently feel complacent as we have abundant water resources.

The problem of short supply of water and depletion of clean water resources seems inevitable, if no appropriate action is taken immediately. There is already a lot of demand for water supply. They are putting a strain on the sustainability of the resource. With proper water management, establishment of good strategies, effective legislation, proper maintenance of water resource would eventually materialize. Water-related problems must be addressed soon, and for the long term to ensure the water’s availability and sustainability. Failing that, we would not be able to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 target, which is to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all.

Datuk Dr. Marimuthu Nadason