WATER is a vital element for human life. A person can survive for weeks without food but it is a different story if there is no water at all.
Water makes up about 70% of the Earth’s total surface but only one percent of this is fresh, liquid and usable. Most of the water is contained in the seas and oceans as salt water and as ice in glaciers and thus cannot be used directly by humans.
Malaysians can consider themselves lucky as we are not as badly affected by water scarcity problems as people in some countries. According to the United Nations, 884 million people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water and this has caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths each year.
Our water tariffs are among the cheapest globally. Selangor and Johor, for example, charge only RM0.57 and RM0.80 per cubic meter of water respectively. Compared to Thailand and Singapore, which charge about RM1.09 and RM6.50 per cubic meter of water respectively for domestic use, our water prices are cheaper by at least 36%.
Nevertheless, not every Malaysian appreciates the cheaper price and uses water prudently. On average, water consumption in Malaysia is 210 litres per capita per day, which is 27% higher than the 165 litres per capita per day recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
We only need 100 to 120 litres of water per person per day to meet our basic needs. We can’t take clean water for granted just because of low tariffs. Prudent use of water is the key to sustainability.
To avoid wasting water, we must first be aware of how much we use. This can be done by checking the monthly water bill.
Activities in the bathroom make up half of the total water consumed in a typical household. Washing laundry accounts for one-fifth of overall household water consumption. Only about 5% to 10% of the water is used for drinking and cooking.
There are many simple and effective ways to reduce water usage in our daily activities. Firstly, do not let the faucet flow while brushing teeth or shaving. Running tap water can waste four to six litres of water per minute. Use a glass of water for rinsing teeth.
Secondly, turn off the flow while soaping or shampooing and reduce shower time to no more than five minutes for a high-flow shower head or no more than 10 minutes for a low-flow shower head. We only need 40 to 50 litres of water per shower.
Thirdly, use a low-flush toilet for urinals. It consumes significantly less water than a full-flush toilet. An efficient dual flush toilet can save water by at least 30%.
Fourthly, operate the washing machine only when you have a full load. Consolidating washes will save not only water but also energy. Always use the recommended dosage of laundry detergent to prevent excessive powder, which requires an additional rinse.
Finally, don’t forget to collect rainwater. It is free and perfect for a variety of outdoor uses such as gardening and washing the porch and cars.
Some might argue that only a small amount of water can be saved from these actions, but if all Malaysians took these steps daily, it would make a big difference. Remember, every drop of water counts.
DR LAU WOEI JYE
Advanced Membrane Technology Research Centre
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia