THE current dry spell is nothing new. It is part of the normal variation in the weather patterns, although some may want to attribute it to climate change.
Malaysia experiences a wet equatorial climate with annual precipitation averaging 3,000mm, which is more than 10 times what most African countries get.
Given such abundant water resources, one would expect Malaysia to be “free” from water problems, but sadly this is not the case.
The country still suffers from many water problems caused mostly by human activities, although natural factors such as seasonal and spatial variation are also causes.
Human activities are the “root cause” of most of our water woes. Malaysians (domestic and industrail water consumers) are generally a wasteful and apathetic lot in that too much water is used and wasted in both sectors.
The main reason is that water is provided very cheap as the tariffs are heavily subsidised by the Government. One state even provides “free” water to domestic consumers.
Deforestation and destruction of water catchments, rapid population increase and economic development, all of which need water, are other root causes.
Water/river pollution is also another human cause. All these causes have resulted in the situation in the Klang Valley today.
Malaysian society too is largely a water wasting society, with the national average water consumption of 212 litres/capita/day.
In developing countries, 20 litres to 30 litres of water per person per day is considered adequate for basic human needs. Hence, Malaysians are using nearly 10 times this amount.
In comparison, Singapore’s average is only 155 litres/capita/day, India’s average is 142 litres/capita/day and China’s average is only 88 litres/capita/day.
The most wasteful consumers are found in urban areas. In Malaysia, urban dwellers use more than 500 litres/capita/day. Hence, getting Malaysians to save water is of vital importance.
Water tariffs need to be restructured to a level that encourages water savings.
Public awareness needs to be increased to change public apathy to public concern. The country must also change from the traditional Water Supply Management (WSM) approach to a Water Demand Management (WDM) approach, or at the very least a combined approach of the two.
Malaysians can help solve much of our water woes if each of us were to reduce our water demand by just 10%, which is not difficult.
For this to happen, there needs to be a year-round concerted national water conservation campaign to get all consumers on board.
Consumers need to be educated to view water with the importance they would for petrol and electricity.
Making water saving a way of life for Malaysians is the key towards sustainable national water security.
Once people and industry get used to the idea of saving water, water demands would fall and the water system will face less stress resulting in less likelihood of water rationing and water cuts.
WDM is a proven strategy that has worked well in countries such Singapore, Australia and Denmark.
There are many ways to save water. One good way to start is to stop using the hose.
For gardening, one can use a watering can. For washing cars, one can use a pail of water. Industries and businesses can also recycle water and/or install water saving equipment on their premises.
PROF CHAN NGAI WENG
President, Water Watch Penang