WHILE Malaysia may have sufficient water for now, this is not a certainty for the future.
The continuous decline of our water quality due to irresponsible and unethical human behaviours will render water that is acceptable to maintain human well-being scarce, says Professor Dr Zainura Zainon Noor.
Additionally, improper planning of water utilisation and allocation may lead to water scarcity in certain parts of the country in the future, says Zainura, who is Deputy Director at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s (UTM) Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Water Security (Ipasa).
Raising awareness is an essential prerequisite to improve water security, says Zainura.
“By having awareness regarding water risks, the government, public and private sectors can act more willingly and proactively to mitigate those risks, ” says Zainura, stressing the importance of both quality data and the accessibility of that data to the public, as it will increase support for evidence-based decisions and policies.
“Raising awareness requires the production and dissemination of proper information highlighting the water-related trends and hazards, their location and magnitude, the vulnerable areas and the potential consequences or damage, at present and in the near future, ” she adds.
Furthermore, information relating to water security-related risks is not uniformly distributed to water users, especially the public. Zainura explains that this contributes to the lack of awareness on water security, which is reflected by Malaysians’ passive effort towards safeguarding our water bodies.
Although the Government is intensifying their efforts to improve water security, we still fall short in achieving certain water security targets because many of our efforts are not cross-cutting through various actors and water users, says Zainura.
“Improving water security is about collaboratively planning and building the capacity of all actors, for example, water managers and users, businesses, and communities, and focusing resources on key water risks specific to our country, ” she notes.
Everyone plays a role
As members of the public, we also have our roles to play to ensure long-term water sustainability. Apart from raising awareness, we must also be vigilant about instances of water pollution that happen around us.
“The public needs to know about the water sources near them so that they can nurture rivers and avoid unnecessary dumping of garbage or effluents. They can also report to the authorities if they come across any illegal activities that may affect the quality of the river, ” says Malaysian Water Forum president Saral James Maniam.
While water is a basic human right, we also have the responsibility to protect and use it wisely without wastage.
“We need to understand water importance and affordability and the need to save and appreciate water. We can also promote water efficiency in agriculture and our daily activities, and control water usage to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of 165L daily per person, ” says Maniam.
Achieving water security objectives means maintaining an acceptable level of water risks to ensure sustainability. These include the risk of shortage, risk of access, risk of safety and quality; and risk of affordability.
One way to address these, according to Maniam, are by improving governance capacities around water through increased transparency and accountability. This of course comes hand in hand with good enforcement as well as creation of innovative water management strategies involving the input and contribution of multiple stakeholders.
“Understanding the effects of climate mitigation and adaptation policies on water security, and the interactions between them, is essential, ” says Maniam, who adds that we must also work towards maintaining affordability by providing tariff structures and subsidies targeted at lower income households.
Hold those responsible accountable
Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (Awer) President S. Piarapakaran urges the public to hold elected and government officers accountable for water woes related to wrong decision making.
He also suggests lodging reports to agencies, water companies, the Department of Environment or local authorities if members of the public notice burst pipes or suspect that illegal dumping activities are taking place.
“If agencies do not take action, you can extend your community’s complaint to the media so that others are also aware. We cannot wait until incidents like the Pasir Gudang pollution to happen before taking action, ” he says
He adds that uptake to policy suggestions by the NGO has been slow at both the federal and state levels.
“Technological advancements are already there and we can make the cost benefit analysis to make right choices. The supply of treated and raw water for domestic and non-domestic use relies on technology. The right implementation of policies will ensure we have good breakeven solutions that will give a win-win situation, ” he says.
Piarapakaran is of the view that because land-use is under state governments purview, this impacts water security adversely.
“Logging and mining which were the colonial masters’ economic ideas are coming back to haunt us again on a large scale. We have cases where loss of catchment areas are actually reducing the functions of dams, and more allocations have to be spent to prevent the shortage of raw water.
"The plantation sector is also another risk to water resources. We need state governments to permanently gazette catchment areas to protect the water needs of future generations, ” he says.