Protect our water at source


  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 21 Jan 2020

SAM (Sahabat Alam Malaysia) is greatly alarmed by news of the sharp drop in water levels in dams in Penang and Kedah over the last two months. Capacity of the Air Itam and Teluk Bahang dams on Penang island reportedly stands

at 62% and 39% respectively. In Kedah, the capacity of the Ahning, Pedu, Muda, Beris and Malut dams was recorded at 62%, 48%, 18%, 81% and 86% respectively.

According to the Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP), between September and December 2019, total rainfall recorded in the Air Itam dam area was only 702mm. This is equivalent to only 44% of the three-year average of 1,577mm, recorded during the same period between 2016 and 2018. For the Teluk Bahang dam, total rainfall recorded in the area in the same time period was 1,732mm, equivalent to only 56% of the three-year average of 3,101mm.

We definitely agree with the assessment of PBAPP’s chief executive officer that the low rainfall in Penang in the last four months of 2019 is linked to climate change. Today, we have to accept that climate change is the new normal.

In light of this human-made global crisis, a more integrated approach to water resource

management can no longer be treated lightly by the federal and state governments. While we

laud the call for consumers not to waste water, to address the reality of this new normal, appropriate policy and governance must play a central role.

The simplest and most cost-effective step that must be urgently undertaken today is natural conservation at the source. We agree with the chair of the National Water Services Commission’s, Charles Santiago, that water catchment areas should be fully gazetted so that the ecology of the areas is not compromised (“Alor Setar, Langkawi and Penang get water shortage alert”, The Star, Jan 18; online at bit.ly/star_dry).

In Peninsular Malaysia, subsection 10(1) of the National Forestry Act 1984 provides states with the power to gazette Water Catchment Forests within Permanent Reserved Forests (PRF). However, based on the latest statistics that we could find, in 2015, only 734,731ha of the PRF have been gazetted as Water Catchment Forests. The total size of the PRF back then, and up until 2018, still stands at 4.8 million hectares. Currently, three million hectares of the PRF have been reserved for production activities such as logging and monoculture plantations.

Secondly, there is also an urgent need for Malaysia to put a stop to its high annual rates of non-revenue water (NRW). NRW is the amount of treated water that flows into a supply system but fails to bring in revenue. This is water that has been lost to piping leaks, system pressure, metering and billing inefficiencies and theft.

For over more than two decades, it has been the norm for our annual national NRW rates to remain at more than 30%, despite millions spent on mitigation. According to SPAN, the rate of our NRW in 2017 stood at 35%, which to us is highly improper. While Penang fared better at keeping its NRW figure lower than the national average at 22%, Kedah lost almost half of its water during that year. In fact, the five worst NRW rates in the country in 2017 were held by Kedah (48%), Kelantan (49%), Pahang (48%), Perlis (63%) and Sabah (54%). This state of affairs is simply unacceptable and, in fact, downright dangerous considering our future climate crisis-affected circumstances.

Therefore, at this juncture when the impacts of the climate crisis have begun to make their presence felt, SAM calls for the intensification and increased integration of efforts to sustainably manage our water resources on the part of both federal and state authorities. Expanding on conservation at the source through the urgent gazetting of our water catchment forests to legally protect them, and reducing our NRW rates are the simplest first steps that can be undertaken by the authorities today.

Likewise, efforts by agencies such as SPAN must also be amply supported to further enhance the protection of water resources and ensure good water quality.

We have had enough warnings about the precarious and vulnerable situation of the country’s water resources. We must therefore act before it’s too late, and the situation too dangerous.

MEENAKSHI RAMAN , President, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)

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