Xavier: Longer droughts expected, Malaysia’s water industry in dire straits

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's water industry is in “dire straits” at a time when the nation is expected to face longer droughts due to climate change, says the Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister.

Dr Xavier Jayakumar said the country is expected to see its water resources reduced by 20-25% by 2025 to 2030.

Despite that looming threat, Malaysia’s water industry is not yet equipped to effectively address the water shortage, he said.

“Our water industry at present is in dire straits. With the shortage we've been having the past two weeks in Selangor, without a reserve margin, we are all sitting ducks,” he said.

Dr Jayakumar said the nation needs a water reserve margin of 10-12% to avoid a catastrophic loss of water in the event of a breakdown in water treatment plants.

However, it is difficult to meet this requirement as demand is outstripping supply, he added.

He said that on a recent visit to Kedah, he saw rivers and waterfalls so dry that the forest caught on fire.

“We’ve never had that before – this is a sign that we have to get our act together,” he said at the soft launch of the Malaysia International Water Convention 2019 at the Pantai 2 Sewage Treatment Plant here Thursday (July 25).

Dr Jayakumar added that the Federal Government, state governments and the private sector must work together to prevent a water crisis.

“If we don’t manage our resources well and we don’t get our act together, we will end up like the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where its population of over 180 million is experiencing an acute shortage of water that has not been seen before,” he said.

According to a CNN report, four reservoirs that supply water to Tamil Nadu state capital Chennai have almost run dry while groundwater levels have dropped drastically over the years.

Dr Jayakumar said his ministry has thus commissioned the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) and Water Supply Department to conduct a full audit on all states in Malaysia.

He added that he wants to conduct a holistic revamp of the water industry, including upgrading water meters, reservoirs, tanks, and underground pipelines.

“That means we're changing the whole ecosystem of the water industry in Malaysia. We have not done it for a long time.

“We are firefighting at present in all the states. Unless and until we collect this data, we would not be able to plan in stages what needs to be done,” he said.

Dr Jayakumar added that his ministry’s study on tapping underground water sources is expected to be completed next year.

He said current data from the National Hydraulic Research Institute and other departments indicate Malaysia may have up to five trillion cubic metres of underground water.

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